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jcpurpledragons

jcpurpledragons
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Member since: 08.12.2007

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      22.11.2008 23:00
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      A chilling tale ingeniously realised

      The Woman in Black, written by Stephen Mallatrat is based on the novel by Susan Hill. It opened at the Fortune Theatre in London's west end in 1989 and has played to audiences of over two million since, being the second longest running play in the West End, after The Mousetrap. The gothic formula of the novel is realized on stage with great ingenuity through the use of meta-theatre as a way in for modern audiences skeptical of the realities of the stage.

      The play opens with a virtually bare stage, a young actor, and Arthur Kipps: a man with a tragic tale to tell. Wanting some training in telling his tale to his family, he becomes the unwilling participant in a reenactment of the haunting events that happened to him. This self-aware approach helps to slowly break down the barriers of many of the audience who turn up demanding to be scared.

      To reveal the plot would be a real spoiler, beyond saying that we find ourselves in a gothic deserted house which rises out of the isolated misty moors, being confronted with the tragic deaths that have cursed all who have live there. As you can see the setting and basic premise is an all-too familiar one in the world of fright, and yet this piece achieves timelessness.

      Little do the audience know as they confidently mock its lack of any real fright in the interval, that by the end a good few of them will be screaming!

      Cast/Production:
      Stephen Mallatratt - Playwright
      Andrew Jarvis - Arthur Kipps
      Timothy Watson - The Actor
      Susan Hill - Author
      Robin Herford - Director
      Michael Holt - Designer
      Kevin Sleep - Lighting Designer
      Seán Brosnan - (Understudies the part of Arthur Kipps)
      Toby Sharp - (Understudies the part of The Actor)
      Vision Productions
      Jon Huyton - Company Stage Manager
      Sian Kemp - Deputy Stage Manager
      Amy Quinn - Assistant Stage Manager
      Caroline Stroud - Sound Operator
      PW Productions - Producers

      Venue:
      Fortune Theatre, Covent Garden

      Performance Times
      Evenings: Monday to Saturday 8pm
      Matinees: Tuesday 3pm, Saturday 4pm
      The performance runs for approximately 2 hours.

      Booking Information
      Box Office: 0870 060 6626
      Open Monday to Saturday 10am - 8pm to personal callers
      Ticketmaster: 0870 534 4444 (24 hour credit card booking)
      A £3.00 processing fee per transaction applies

      Website:
      www.thewomaninblack.com
      www.ticketmaster.co.uk

      Seat Prices:
      Stalls: £39.00, £29.00
      Dress Circle: £39.00, £29.00
      Upper Circle: £23.00, £13.50
      (New Upper Circle price takes effect from 22 Dec 08 - £13.50 increases to £16.50)
      A £1 restoration levy charged by the theatre is included in the ticket price

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        22.11.2008 22:22
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        A musical to rock to!

        We Will Rock You, written by Ben Elton and musically supervised by Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, is based around Queen's greatest hits. 


        The musical opened in London's West end on April 24th 2002, and has received much critical acclaim.

        Set in the future it presents a bleak picture of Earth (Planet Mall). So mass produced has the world become that it is devoid of independent musical thought, and filled with Gaga characters who are all 'clones'/ mindless 'sheep'. Live music is banded, and only what the GlobalSoft Corporation produce is legal. Imprisoned for being individual Galileo and Scaramouche meet and don't exactly hit it off to start. However through their search for the 'place of the living rock', their adventures with the Bohemians, and the rediscovery of live music, they unsurprisingly fall madly in love.

        For me the plot line is a bit week, and there are some really dodgy story implants to conveniently allow a Queen track to sneak its way in. However, this is a musical with far more musical power than most. And there's nothing quite like experiencing Queen music with the power of a live band. So if you fancy rocking along to a musical, then this is the one for you.

        Venue:
        Dominion Theatre
        Adjacent to Tottenham Court Road tube in Central London.



        Performances:
        Monday-Friday 19:30. 

        Saturday 15:00, 19:30. 

        Wed Mat 14:30 (last Wed of each month only) 



        Prices are from £21.50 - £42.50 


        Direct Booking: +44 (0)870 607 7400
        Though I recommend going to a half price ticket booth in Leicester Square on the day to get decent seats at bargain prices.

        Official website
        http://www.queenonline.com/wewillrockyou/
        for information on current show times, and samples of the music in the show.
        Tickets:
        http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk for advance ticket sales.

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          22.11.2008 21:50
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          A highly comical tragic musical.

          Blood Brothers, first developed by Willy Russell in 1981 within school workshops, was revamped by Bill Kenwright in 1987 and returned to the West End the following year. It was the first West End revival to be nominated for the Best Musical Revival Olivier Award within two years of winning the Original Best Musical production. It transferred from the Albery to the Phoenix four years later in 1991, where it remains today and has become one of the longest running musicals in the West End

          Set in working class 1950-60s Liverpool, the context in which Russell himself grew up, the musical deals predominantly with the issue of class.

          The play's circular narrative sets the tragic tone from the start, which is then quickly contrasted by its comical musical style. Unlike most other West End musicals, this one is truly concerned with plot and its social message. However it manages to have a lot of fun along the way, particularly in the early scenes with hilarious adult performances of children, and a clever use of multi-rolling.

          However, by the end the characters have moved from comic stereotypes to ones you care about, and the more sensitive among you might even find a few tears welling up as you jump at the climax.

          I'd recommend it as a musical, that even those who aren't keen on musicals can enjoy.

          Director: Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright
          Design: Andy Walmsley
          Musical Director: Rod Edwards
          Lighting: Nick Richings

          Cast:
          Helen Hobson Mrs Johnstone
          Jay Roberts Mickey
          Joe Fredericks Eddie
          Steven Houghton Narrator
          Joanne Zorian Mrs Lyons
          Stephen Pallister Mr Lyons
          Debbie Eden Linda
          Michael Southern Sammy
          Adam Tedder PC/Teacher
          Amy O'Neill Donna Marie
          Emma Nowell Brenda
          Simon Turner Perkins
          Alex Harland Bus Conductor
          Michael Everest Neighbour

          Nightly Evening Performance: 7.45pm
          Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2.
          Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road.
          Tel: +44 (0)20 7369 1733.

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            19.12.2007 12:53
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            Explore magnificent historical sites.

            The reason I wanted to go to Beijing was I wanted to visit mainland China, but pick somewhere simple and safe for my first lone journey. A must see landmark for me in China was the Great Wall, so this made Beijing the ideal location for a first visit. It is the capital city of the People's Republic of China and you will require a visa to be admitted to the country (which takes about 10 days to get).

            Beijing is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, at which point the price of everything for tourists is set to quadruple (when I went in 2007 everything was very reasonably priced). But if you are heading out for the Olympics then do not fear, as this is going to be one city that is ready for it. The government has already got volunteers trained and prepped on the 2007 summer season to be able to help tourists, and translators via radio to help the taxi drivers who don't speak English. To combat traffic problems they have also trialled a system which rotates which half of the city's cars can be on the road each day to cut congestion during the games.

            With 9 million bicycles to 14.5 million inhabitants, this is a popular mode of transport; unfortunately every year the number of cars is doubling. What results is mass confusion between pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers all thinking they have right of way when on the road. Be careful when you are crossing the road, it is mayhem; I generally went for planting myself in the middle of a crowd and crossing my fingers.

            This is an expansive city at 6,489 square miles. I am someone who's predominant mode of transport on holiday is my feet. However walking from one place to the next can take an hour or two here, so be stocked up on energy and water. The problem with walking though is as the city is dusty (even more so because of all the pre-Olympic building work), the high pollution level appears even worse and your lungs can start to suffer. In any tourist location it is easy to pick up a very reasonably priced taxi, or a rickshaw (make sure you bargain with them).


            ***Tiananmen Square***

            Tiananmen Square is the largest open-urban square in the world, at 880m south to north and 500m east to west it covers a total area of 440,000 square meters. Tiananmen Square is the large plaza at the center of Beijing, named after the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) which sits at its north, separating it from the Forbidden City (hanging from which is the world's largest portrait of Mao).

            The square is a landmark of great cultural significance as the site of several key events in Chinese history. One of the most recent of which was the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, when hundreds of unarmed democracy-activists where slaughtered by the People's Liberation Army on the orders of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

            To be honest it's just a big square, and in itself not that interesting. I simply walked through the square to reach the entrance to the Forbidden City, but there are also museums located to its eastern edge.


            ***Forbidden City***

            At the epicenter of Beijing, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty and was the political centre of government. Since 1924, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, with extensive collections of artwork and artifacts from Chinese history. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.
            Built from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings and covers 720,000m.sq. It is a gargantuan and impressive example of traditional Chinese palatial architecture, with its striking red roofs, and gold, blue and green fine detailing.

            Walking through its buildings and courtyards is the best way to get a feel for the sheer power of government here. I was lucky when I was here as there was a university art exhibition in one of the buildings, and I had a very kind student talk me through the history of Chinese art.


            ***Summer Palace***

            The Summer Palace is an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60m high) and the man made Kunming Lake, which covers three quarters of it. It covers three quarters of which is water. In its compact 70,000 square meters of building space, there are a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.

            The Summer Palace started out life in 1750 (Reign of Emperor Qianlong). Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, from 1888, who diverted 30 million taels of silver into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace. This includes the world's longest outdoor covered passageway (the long corridor) which is 728m in length and houses over 1400 individual paintings. It's an impressive walkway and leads you in shelter from the sun along the edge of the vast lake, where you will see fishermen harvesting pearls (available as jewelry in the near buy Friendship store).

            The whole place has a sense of beauty and peace and you can see why it's a popular tourist destination as well as a recreational park, and world heritage site.


            ***Temple of Heaven***

            The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens, and is raised higher, and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth, following a traditional Chinese belief. The buildings within follow a central axis from north to south within highly maintained gardens.

            The most impressive building is the circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. It stands raised tall at the centre and is intricately detailed. Also, at the south end of the temple gardens you reach the Circular Mound Alter, with three layered terraces of marble. It's an impressive structure and everyone seems desperate to get to its centre and have a photo taken there (I guess on the spot where they would have sacrificed to the gods).

            Three Echo Stones outside of the gate of the Imperial Vault of Heaven are an interesting attraction. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively. I can't say I tried this myself, but I witnessed lots of children having great fun doing just that.

            Open 6am-8pm, costing up to CNY 35 to get in (depending on whether you want to see everything), I would say it's worth a visit. The architecture is beautiful, but having already seen a lot of Chinese architecture by this point it had less impact, as pretty much all great buildings and monuments in Beijing are from the same era and of the same style. To be honest I was most impressed by the Nine-dragon Cypress there with its amazing twisted stump and beautiful leaves.


            ***Beijing Zoo***

            Situated in the Xicheng District, to the west of Beijing Exhibition Centre, the zoo was the first of its kind to be opened in China, and is a significant tourist attraction. The zoo contains a diverse collection, with some 20,000 animals of 900 different species, sixteen different exhibition areas and halls, and some sites of historical interest.

            One of the most popular attractions is the Panda Hall. Built in 1989 and covering an area of around 10,000 square meters, the Panda's have an attractive and spacious area in which to live. The inside of the hall replicates the style of traditional Chinese gardens and outdoors they have a variety of different spaces.

            Whilst the zoo in general is pretty decent as zoos go in terms of space and habitat for its animals, the panda areas is particularly good. I recommend not going to any other zoo in the east, which are even worse than normal zoos, but if you do want to see animals close up this is a good place to do so. This is a rare chance for many to see these amazing giant creatures, so worth a stop I think.


            ***The Great Wall of China***

            A trip out of the city centre, the easiest way is by a day trip (Greyline were good for me), is the awe inspiring man made construction that is The Great Wall of China. It is the world's longest human-made structure (and largest in terns of mass), stretching from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, stretches to over 4,160 miles in total.

            The Great Wall is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in China, built, rebuilt, and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire during the rule of successive dynasties.

            Beijing is not only the political centre of China, but it is also the most strategic city in the north. Many dynasties in Chinese history actively built walls in this area. The stretch of wall built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) in Beijing is the most often seen and best preserved part of the Great Wall. It is over 373 miles in length and contains about 827 city wall platforms, 71 passes and vast numbers of towers.

            Popular sections of the wall include Jian Kou, where most professional photos are taken from; Badaling, which is constantly packed; as is the Mutianyua section with the optional cable car ride to the top. I went to the Juyongguan Pass (atleast I think that's what it was called) that was much less busy. This meant I could climb the inordinate amounts of steps to the top in relevant peace. If you're stupidly doing this in the middle of the day, make sure you take plenty of water as you'll need it. The views are amazing and once you've got to the top, walking along it is a rewarding experience.


            ***Beijing Opera***

            Beijing opera, or Peking opera as it was when it arose in the 18th century, is a form of traditional Chinese theatre which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. It is most definitely not like western opera. Instead you will be entertained by elaborately costumed performers on a sparse stage, with a variety of scenes incorporating song, movement, acrobatic, and combat movements. Performances are symbolic and exaggerated and in no way realistic. Each scene is accompanied by live music.

            The best place to experience this in Beijing is at the Liyuan Theatre, jointly run by the Qianmen Hotel and the Beijing Opera Theatre of Beijing. If you follow the road at the North entrance to the Temple of Heaven west for about a half hour walk you will hit the hotel on your right. Of course more sensible people than I would just hop in a taxi! I was able to pick up tickets for the balcony area an hour before the show and by being one of the first in got excellent, and ridiculously cheep, seats. I found it highly entertaining, if a little strange, and was most impressed by the acrobatic skill and choreography of the combat movement.



            These are the main landmarks and attractions of Beijing. There are lots of historic sites to see, such as those above and for another example an underground city that was constructed and realised useless in the event of nuclear attack. Things located around the centre of Beijing are easily doable by your self, either by being an epic walker, or by grabbing a cheep taxi ride. The Great wall is definitely a day trip out, and the Summer Palace and Zoo are a bit further out too.

            I used Greyline for these and was part of a minibus of 5 for the great wall and ended up being chauffer driven with a private guide around the Summer Palace, Zoo, and a Buddhist Temple. The guide even took me for a Chinese tea ceremony from a different tour and dropped me of at the Temple of Heaven rather than my hotel. The trips were easy to book on line, well priced, and the service was excellent (including their fluency in English). Just be aware that they, as with all tourist services will greatly increase in price and popularity now we are heading into Olympics year.

            As a foreigner there are an endless amount of Friendship stores which are designed specifically for foreign guests to shop, not residents. These vast shops often contain the workshops where crafts are produced within them. The main consumer attractions in Beijing are pearls and jade. If you decide to go on any organised tour or day out I guarantee you will get forced to go into at least one of these, which annoyed me a bit, but I did buy a jade dragon and phoenix sculpture- so I can't complain too much. Otherwise, these are places that you will need a car to get too.

            Be prepared that when you walk into any shop anywhere in China that you will be closely followed by a kind shop assistant who will insist upon trying to help you. Accept it: this is part of the culture. But for me this meant I went into shops less and regularly ended up running straight back out as I just can't shop that way.

            Beijing is bursting at the seams with history, but it's definitely the Great Wall of China that is the main reason for visiting here. I am not a fan of it as a city.

            I am truly glad I have been here and visited these epic historical landmarks, but I don't have any need to go back. To another place in China maybe, but even then I'm not sure. My time in Japan appealed to me far more- now that is a country I want to revisit and explore further.

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              18.12.2007 17:14
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              If you like art then this is the place to be

              As the capital of France, Paris is traditionally regarded as the city of love! Well the first time I went with a very grumpy companion, and the second time with a group of art students, so perhaps I've just missed this side to the city. Although I suppose the architecture and the river Siene which flows through its centre could be seen as romantic. For me it is simply a city with some great landmark attractions and an amazing array of art galleries.

              It's a busy and highly populated city, and if you trust the figures on Wikipedia then it has an estimated population of 2,153,600 within its administrative limits, with a further commuter belt of 2 million, making it one of the most heavily populated areas in Europe. In addition to this, Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with over 30 million foreign visitors per year. All of which makes for a very vibrant and bustling place.

              I have been at Easter, when it was heaving with visitors and there were long queues everywhere, and January when it was a lot more peaceful. If you can stand the literally freezing cold by wrapping up with hat, gloves, and scarf (as you really will need them), I recommend going off season as you can do a lot more without the usual tourist hassles.

              It's easily accessible by Eurostar train and aeroplane, or ferry and car, in a matter of hours. If you travel by train you get the added bonus of arriving at Le Garde De Nord, the main train station, and a fine example of the quality of historic architecture you can expect to find around Paris.

              Paris is indeed teaming with culture in terms of its art, architecture, theatre, literature, and history.


              *** Eiffel Tower***

              With 2 million visitors the first year, 1889, and almost 6 million people a year today (that's over 200 million in total), the Eiffel Tower is a major tourist attraction, which at 324m high has become the symbol of the nation. I think it's a must if your are visiting Paris, both as a landmark in itself, but also as it provides the best panoramic views of the city.

              If you fancy a visit then it's open every day 9.30-6.30, but until midnight in the summer months. It will cost up to 12 euros, depending on whether you are going right to the top and walking all the way up something stupid like a 1000 steps, or sensibly cheating with the lift. I've done both, in hot weather I'd recommend the lift, but walking makes you feel like you've really earnt the views.

              An added bonus in going in winter was that there was an ice rink half way up. So there I was ice skating on the Eiffel Tower with great views of Paris all around me!



              ***Notre Dame Cathedral****

              Notre Dame de Paris (meaning 'Our Lady of Paris') is a Gothic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in Paris. Still used as a Roman Catholic cathedral it is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It is free to get in to (donations always welcomed), although around any religious holidays the queues will be endless.
              It is a truly beautiful and gothic building. Externally its flying buttresses, gargoyles, and gothic design are striking. Inside it's the stained glass windows that stand out. You can take photos without flash inside, but the light conditions are difficult for this. I love this building!


              *** Avenue des Champs-Elysées***

              This is the most prestigious and broadest avenue in Paris, and is second only to Fifth Avenue in New York for its real estate value. It is lines with speciality shops and elegant boutiques and is the must go to shopping venue of Paris. However, the big global brand chain stores somehow reduce its elegance, as what has been regarded as the most beautiful avenue in the world. Not really my thing, but worth a stroll and some window shopping.


              *** Arc de Triomphe ***

              Standing in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the eastern end of Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe is the second most iconic symbol of Paris to me. The arch honours those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars, and today also includes the tomb of the unknown soldier.
              At over 51m tall and 45m wide, the Arc is the linchpin of the historic axis (L'Axe historique) -- a sequence of monuments on a route which goes from the courtyard of the Louvre Palace to the outskirts of Paris. I was heading out to, so jumped off the subway here, took some photos, and headed on my way. This was enough for me, it was just one of those places I wanted to have seen up close.


              *** Louvre ***

              The Musée du Louvre is the most visited and one of the oldest, largest, and most famous art galleries and museums in the world. It is located by the equestrian statue of Louis XIV constitutes the starting point of the L'axe Historique and is right at the heart of the city. It has its very own metro station, Musée du Louvre Metro station.

              The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Tuesday and the following holidays: January 1st, May 1st, May 8 and December 25, 2007. It will cost you between 6 to 13 Euros, depending on whether you want to get into the special exhibit. With about 8 million visitors a year, the Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world.

              Previously a royal palace, the Louvre holds some of the world's most famous works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Be prepared though to be rushed through a private room with no photography, and an endless crowd of people around it, if you want to catch a glimpse of this painting.

              The place is truly vast and has large sections on art from a variety of different cultures and periods in history. You definitely need to make use of the map that you get upon entrance in order to find your way around and as it is so vast, target the exhibits you are most interested in (before complete exhaustion sets in).Personally I just enjoy wandering around it's magnificent halls and stopping when I hit upon a piece of work that grabs my attention. I found the Egyptian and African sections of art particularly interesting.


              ***Musée d'Orsay***

              The Musée d'Orsay is located on the left bank of the Seine, housed in the former railway station, the Gare d'Orsay. It holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. Its main attraction though is its vast collection of impressionist masterpieces, such as by Monet and Renoir, and personally I like the giant polar bear sculpture in the entrance hall. It's open each day 9.30-6pm and costs 7.50 Euros to get in. It's worth a visit, but I was less taken by it than some of the other galleries.


              ***Pompidou Centre***

              The Centre Georges Pompidou (constructed 1971-1977) is a complex in the Beaubourg area of Paris, near Les Halles and the Marais. It houses the Bibliothèque publique d'information, a vast public library, the Musée National d'Art Moderne, and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research.

              As someone interested in both architecture and modern art, this was a must on both of my trips to Paris. The building itself is quite unique and feels playful in its bold childishness. The National Museum of Art is one of the best modern art galleries that I have been to. I recommend a visit, is only to sit outside a café across from it to enjoy its fun architecture.



              I have given specific details on the predominant general and modern art galleries, but Paris is simple bursting with art galleries. If you are interested in sculpture then I suggest a visit to the Rodin gallery, not far from the Musee d'Orsay. I also really enjoyed the Picasso Museum, it houses by far the best collection of his work that I have seen. It is about a 20 minute walk from the Pompidou, and it was along this walk that I found the most interesting shops and boutiques.

              Another attraction, if you can call it that, is the Catacombs. This is a vast underground network of passages lined with skulls and skeletons of thousands of bodies. These Roman quarries were converted into a mass tomb near the end of the 18th century. It's a truly surreal experience wandering through here, but is not for the faint of heart!

              For more skeletons, only of an animal nature, the Natural History Museum houses vast collections. It has buildings covering all aspects of the evolution of the natural world. Just don't visit the zoo there, unless you want to see what a tiger forced to live in a fishbowl looks like.

              All in all there is plenty to do here, but it's no where near as magical a place as history and literature makes out. I admire the galleries and the landmarks, but as a city I find it slightly dissapointing.

              If you are into art then I strongly recommend Paris, and it's worth a brief visit for its architecture too. Five days is enough to explore its main attractions. I enjoyed my time there, and the art galleries are great, but it's not a place I'm rushing to go back to.

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              • M*A*S*H (1968) / TV Programme / 40 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                17.12.2007 13:42
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                A witty sitcom drama that will make you laugh and cry

                Few things manage to be truly comical and yet truly depressing in one swoop, whilst being completely entertaining. Somehow Mash always manages to carry it off.

                Set in a Mash (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) centre in North Korea during the War, this situation comedy (the comedy can be somewhat dark at times) tracks the daily turmoil of the soldiers and doctors who are trying to survive. Each day helicopters and trucks of injured men rush in, and the overworked and inadequately supplied doctors try to fix them up and send them back out to get injured once again.

                Developed by Larry Gelbart, this American show was inspired by the 1968 novel M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker (penname for H. Richard Hornberger) and its sequels, but primarily by the 1970 film MASH.

                One of the things that makes Mash so successful is the wonderful characters and cast. The characters have more depth than in a standard sitcom, and although they manage to communicate in endless wit, they come across as genuine and believable.



                ***Character Profiles***

                Although Hawkeye is clearly the star, the show is made up of an outstanding ensemble cast.


                Name: Captain USAMC Benjamin Franklin Pierce
                Actor: Alan Alda

                Named Hawkeye by his father, Dr. Daniel Pierce, after a character in the book "The Last of the Mohicans", he was born and raised in Crabapple Cove Maine. He did his medical residency in Boston, where he first met Trapper John.

                The absolute star of the show (although everyone in it is great), Alan Alda also wrote and directed several episodes.

                Hawkeye is an amazing surgeon, whose greatest disadvantage is his humanity- he truly cares and fully sees the horror of what is going on around him. His coping strategies include endlessly scoring with the nurses (or certainly trying to), making home brew, being endlessly witty- surviving the horror by making a joke out of it, and of course setting the world right.

                "He's no soldier, he's a doctor. He just humours us by wearing the uniform."


                Name: Captain USAMC John Francis Xavier McIntyre
                Actor: Wayne Rogers

                He got his nickname Trapper after he 'trapped' a beauty queen in the toilet of the Boston-Maine express train. His hometown is Boston and he is married with 2 daughters Becky and Kathy.

                He is the original sidekick to Hawkeye. However the actor got pissed when the show became more about Hawkeye than him and so he left. You discover he has left at the start of the fourth series. But that's ok, as his replacement works better in my opinion.


                Name: Captain BJ Hunnicut
                Actor: Mike Farrel

                BJ Studied at Stanford Medical School then did his medical residency in Sausilito California. Before Leaving for Korea he did 5 weeks army training at Fort Sam Houston. He is married to Peg and has a baby daughter called Erin. Comes from 3 generations of doctors.

                He becomes Hawkeye's sidekick in the fourth series, and a great one at that. Faithful in pining for his wife and daughter he feels like a real guy being kept from his loved ones, as so many where. He is almost as brilliant a surgeon and witticist as Hawkeye.


                Name: Lt Colonel Henry Braymore Blake
                Actor: McLean Stevenson

                His hometown is Bloomington, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois. Is married to Lorraine and has a son Andrew and 2 daughters Molly and Janie

                He leaves at the end of the third series, you see him head off in the helicopter having got his papers to go home. An uplifting end to the series? Of course not. Right at the end of the episode Radar walks in to the operating theatre and tells Hawkeye the helicopter went down.


                Name: Colonel Sherman T. Potter
                Actor: Harry Morgan

                His hometown is Hannibal, Missouri. Named after the famous General William 'T' Sherman, he left home at 15 to join the cavalry. After serving in the first world war he became a surgeon in 1932. Has a son Cory who is a dentist and a granddaughter Cheryl Pershing Potter.

                Colonel Potter has a strong command, but also has the personality to do things the way he sees fit. He can often be found with a cigar in one hand and whiskey in the other (according to him fig rolls taste good dipped in it). He sees the world the way it is and deals with it as such.

                Name: Major Frank Marion Burns Actor: Larry Linville

                Burns was born April 13th his hometown is Fort Wayne, Indiana. Married to Louise and has 3 daughters. He was president of his school stamp club and wrote for the school newspaper.

                He is a stickler for army discipline, and when left in charge for the day goes power crazy. Despite being married, he has an affair with Major Houlihan. His already quirky mind finally goes fully loopy when Margaret marries. He gets in drunken trouble and arrested, this conveniently leads to him getting sent home and promoted. Those left behind celebrate (the promotion of course!).

                Name: Major Charles Emerson Winchester III Actor: David Ogden Stiers

                His hometown is Boston. Charles graduated at the top of his class at Harvard Medical School in 1943. Has a sister, Honoria

                He replaces Burns for a couple of days and then gets made to stay there as his commanding officer owes him $625 dollars for a card game and doesn't want to pay. He is an outstanding surgeon with an ego to match, but is quickly humbled slightly when he realises the challenges the doctors at Mash face.

                Name: Major Margaret "Hotlips" Houlihan Actor: Loretta Swit

                Margaret was born in an army hospital and spent her early years at Fort Ord, California. Her father is "Howitzer" Al Houlihan and her mother was an army nurse. She was stationed in Tokyo before going to the 4077th.

                Margaret rules the nurses with an iron glove and takes no nonsense. She has a long affair with Major Burns before falling for a more senior army man. Whilst she openly disapproves of Hawkeye's lack of respect for army regulations there is a clear spark between these two throughout.


                Name: Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly
                Actor: Gary Burghoff

                Radar was born and raised on a farm in Ottumwa, Iowa. His Father died when he was very young. He enlisted in the army when he was 18, having failed the medical for the Marines.

                Radar is a sweet and innocent kid, note the teddy bear he sleeps with. There is nothing but sweetness and kindness here; he even looks after his friend's Korean girlfriend and baby when asked without so much as a second thought. A real loveable guy, he delivers the post, makes announcements, and generally runs all the admin of the camp. His special skill is hearing the choppers of injured bodies approaching long before anyone else can (hence the name Radar).

                Radar leaves at the end of the eighth series. He did a pilot for a spin off of his character called W-A-L-T-E-R that got nowhere.


                Name: Corporal (Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger
                Actor: Jamie Farr

                His parents came to America from Lebanon, with his hometown being Toledo, Ohio. He comes from a large family and is desperate to get back to them.

                Klinger is determined to get home and tries everything he can to get home- mainly wearing an array of women's clothes to try and get him a Section 8. His protest at the top of a basketball pole leads to him setting the army pole sitting record.

                Name: Lieutenant (Captain) John Francis Patrick Mulcahy
                Actor: William Christopher

                Inspired to become a chaplain by Fr Marty "Boom Boom" Gallagher, Mulcahy studied for the priesthood in Philadelphia. Has a sister, Katherine, who is a nun.

                Father Mulcahy often brings a voice of sound reason to any situation. As his role is to comfort and strengthen the soldiers who come in torn up from war and petrified to go back, he is often involved in the more serious elements of the storylines.


                ***Episode Guide***

                There are 11 series in all- so far too many episodes to outline. As I have been re-watching the early episodes, here is a quick guide to what happens in the first 15 of Series 1, to give you a bit of an idea:

                M*A*S*H -- The Pilot. September 17, 1972
                Welcome to the insane world where the procession of injured never ends.

                To Market, To Market. September 24, 1972
                After the 4077th supply of hydrocortisone is hijacked by black marketeers, Hawkeye and Trapper concoct a deal with a local black marketeer to get some more.

                Requiem for a Lightweight.October 1, 1972
                Trapper enters the intercamp boxing tournament to save a beautiful nurse from being transferred out.

                Chief Surgeon Who? October 8, 1972
                Frank and Margaret fume when Hawkeye is named chief surgeon over Frank.

                The Moose. October 15, 1972
                Hawkeye wins a Korean girl as servant from the sergeant who purchased her and tries to set her free.

                Yankee Doodle Doctor. October 22, 1972
                The camp makes a film in response to one made about the 4077th.

                Bananas, Crackers, and Nuts. November 5, 1972
                After being denied R&R, Hawkeye fakes insanity.

                Cowboy. November 12, 1972
                Henry refuses to let a chopper pilot go home, and the pilot feels there is no alternative but to kill Henry.

                Henry, Please Come Home. November 19, 1972
                Henry is transferred to administrative duty in Tokyo. Hawkeye and Trapper convince Radar to fake an illness to get Henry to return.

                I Hate a Mystery. November 26, 1972
                Hawkeye plays detective when he becomes the chief suspect in a stealing epidemic.

                Germ Warfare. December 10, 1972
                Hawkeye steals a pint of Frank's blood, suspecting hepatitis, he works frantically to keep him isolated

                Dear Dad. December 17, 1972
                Hawkeye writes his dad, describing the antics of the 4077th.

                Edwina. December 24, 1972
                The nurses go to extremes to find a date of Nurse Eddie: The men draw straws, and Hawkeye loses.

                Love Story. January 7, 1973
                To cheer Radar up Hawkeye and Trapper try to help him with a new nurse.

                Tuttle. January 14, 1973
                Hawkeye and Trapper, with Radar's help, invent a fictitious Captain Tuttle so that his salary can be donated to help a local orphanage.

                For a more complete episode guide of all 11 series check out the highly detailed website: http://www.mash4077.co.uk/what.html

                The comical goings on each episode occur against a tragic backdrop of war and its terrible effect on soldiers and civilians alike. The show deals with concepts of life, death, faith, all aspects of humanity, and is not afraid to question the validity of war.

                One of the episodes that always sticks in my mind explores the concept of war as business and exposes a character who has young Korean boys searching mine fields for scraps that can be used as war souvenirs. Naturally Hawkeye puts him out of business and 'saves the day', but it is clear that there is no end in site and despite his efforts more children will die as part of this business. The reality of it all is ripping Hawkeye apart, and Alda's true strength lies in his eyes- usually the actor's tell, you believe his pain even when he laughs.

                What started off very much as a sitcom, developed over the years into a witty drama. Each episode resonates with a bitter sweet message of both the best and worst of what mankind has to offer. If you have any doubt of the shows tragic element, simply listen to the title song "Suicide is Painless" by Johnny Mandel (music) and Mike Altman (lyrics).

                I think Mash is a classic. Whilst some episodes obviously stand out more than others, I have yet to find one that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed. With 3 Directors' Guild Awards, 6 Writers' Guild Awards, and 14 Emmys I can't be the only one to rate it so highly.

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                  16.12.2007 22:51
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                  Worth a watch (especially if you like the West Wing style of comedy drama)

                  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is an American television comedy drama series created and written by Aaron Sorkin. You may well recognise his name as the creator of the highly acclaimed and successful West Wing.

                  The programme takes place behind the scenes of a fictional live sketch comedy show, also called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, whose format is similar to NBC's Saturday Night Live. The fictional show-within-a-show is run by head writer Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and producer/director Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford).

                  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip aired on NBC from September 18, 2006 to June 28, 2007 and received mixed reviews. It aired in England on More Four Thursdays 10pm and repeated Sundays 11.05pm.

                  The pilot episode grabbed my attention enough to set my Tivo to record all future episodes. From the offset it is fast paced and entertaining. The show draws you in as you gradually learn more about the situation and each of the characters. It's an intricately weaved script that (in the first episodes) results in truly gripping programming.


                  ***Cast***

                  These are the main cast members who feature regularly and sustain a presence through the show. It's a busy set so there are many minor characters, and regular guest stars too (including Alison Janney from the West Wing, and Sting).

                  Matthew Perry ... Matt Albie - the main writer of the show,
                  in love with Harriet.
                  (Since friends this is by far his best work)
                  Bradley Whitford ... Danny Tripp - ex drug addict producer. (You may well recognise the actor, and some
                  of the personality from West Wing.)
                  Amanda Peet ... Jordan McDeere - Network official in charge
                  of Entertainment
                  Steven Weber ... Jack Rudolph - Network Vice President
                  D.L. Hughley ... Simon Stiles - the male comedy lead of the
                  show, really brings something to the show.
                  Sarah Paulson ... Harriet Hayes - a very Christian comedy
                  talent and in/out of love with Matt.
                  Nathan Corddry ... Tom Jeter - a sweet lad and comedian,
                  brother is in the war
                  Timothy Busfield ... Cal Shanley - the show's editor (also from The West Wing)
                  Nate Torrence ... Dylan Killington - an unconfident comedian
                  Lucy Davis ... Lucy Kenwright - freshman writer (British- of The Office Fame. I don't really buy
                  her in this)
                  Camille Chen ... Samantha Li - one of the actresses
                  Simon Helberg ... Alex Dwyer - writer
                  Ayda Field ... Jeannie Whatley - babe actress
                  Merritt Wever ... Suzanne - a runner who becomes Matt's PA
                  Columbus Short ... Darius Hawthorne - freshman writer
                  Mark McKinney ... Andy Mackinaw - an experienced and very
                  depressed writer

                  It's very much an ensemble cast and draws from a variety of interesting characters and accomplished performances (there are only a couple of less convincing performances from Ayda Field and Lucy Davis). In addition to having a generally very strong cast, Studio 60 is a daring, ingenious, comedic drama (well at least to begin with anyway- then it becomes a diluted version of the same).


                  ***Episode Guide***

                  101 - The Pilot
                  Broadcast: September 18, 2006
                  Jordan McDeere hires Matt and Danny to replace Wes Mandell to run Studio 60.
                  Written by: Aaron Sorkin Directed by: Thomas Schlamme

                  102 - "The Cold Open"
                  Broadcast: September 25, 2006
                  Matt must come up with a strong opening segment and it all falls into place just in time.
                  Written by: Aaron Sorkin Directed by: Thomas Schlamme

                  103 - "The Focus Group"
                  Broadcast: October 2, 2006
                  A focus group thinks the show is unpatriotic.
                  Written by: Aaron Sorkin Directed by:Christopher Misiano

                  104 - "The West Coast Delay"
                  Broadcast: October 9, 2006
                  Matt and Danny panic when they discover that a sketch they just showed was taken from another comedian's material.
                  Written by: Mark Goffman & Aaron Sorkin
                  Directed by: Timothy Busfield

                  105 - "The Long Lead Story"
                  Broadcast: October 16, 2006
                  A journalist is given full access to the team.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: Dana Cavlo
                  Directed by: David Petrarca

                  106 - The Wrap Party
                  Broadcast: October 23, 2006
                  Lots of interesting goings on at the show after party.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: Melissa Myers & Amy Turner Directed by: David Semel

                  107 - "Nevada Day Part I"
                  Broadcast: November 6, 2006
                  Tom is arrested and sent to Nevada on a Friday putting in jeopardy a major network deal.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: Mark McKinney Directed by: Lesli Linka Glatter, Timothy Busfield

                  108 - "Nevada Day Part II"
                  Broadcast: November 13, 2006
                  The situation in Nevada spins out of control.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: David Handleman and Cinque Henderson Directed by: Timothy Busfield

                  109 - "The Option Period"
                  Broadcast: November 20, 2006
                  Jordan tells Danny he has to fire 15 people or use product placement and Matt discovers the main writers plan to leave.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: Christina Kiang Booth and Mark Goffman Directed by: John Fortenberry

                  110 - "B-12″
                  Broadcast: November 27, 2006
                  A virus is going around the cast and crew, Matt brings in a Writer Whisperer, Jordan's press relations take a turn for the worse, and a secret is discovered.
                  Written by: Eli Attie and Aaron Sorkin
                  Directed by: Bryan Gordan

                  111 - "The Christmas Show" (source NBC)
                  Broadcast: December 4 2006
                  Matt wants a Christmas show, Danny starts to become obsessive about Jordan, Harriet is offered a moview role, and the show features musicians from New Orleans.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Christina Kiang Booth and Cinque Henderson Directed by: Dan Attias

                  112 - "Monday"
                  Broadcast: January 22, 2007
                  Matt is frantic about Harriet, Danny is harassing Jordan and Jack and Wilson fight with the board of directors.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Dana Cavlo and David Handelman Directed by: Lawrence Trilling

                  113 - "The Harriet Dinner"
                  Broadcast: January 29, 2007
                  Thinking Luke is bidding, Matt bids thousands to accompany Harriet to a charity dinner.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Eli Attie
                  Directed by: Timothy Busfield

                  114 - "The Harriet Dinner Part II"
                  Broadcast: February 5, 2007
                  Things continue to fall apart with Matt and Harriet, while Jordan and Danny spend time locked on the roof.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Mark Goffman and Dana Calvo Directed by: John Fortenberry

                  115 - "The Friday Night Slaughter"
                  Broadcast: February 12, 2007
                  Matt remembers how he and Harriet first met and reminisces.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Melissa Myers & Amy Turner Directed by: Thomas Schlamme

                  116 - "4 a.m. Miracle"
                  Broadcast: February 19, 2007
                  Having lost Harriet Matt faces serious writer's block.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Mark McKinney
                  Directed by: Laura Innes

                  117 - "The Disaster Show" (source NBC)
                  Broadcast: Thursday, May 24, 2007
                  Allison Janney is the guest host while the show suffers from a strike from the prop guys and a bomb threat.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Story by: Chad Gomez Creasey & Dara Resnick Creasey Directed by: Thomas Schlamme

                  118 - "Breaking News" (source NBC Press Release)
                  Broadcast: Thursday, May 31, 2007
                  Jordan experiences an emergency with her pregnancy, Tom's soldier brother has been captured and Matt's pill use gets discovered.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin Directed by: Andrew Berstein

                  119 - "K&R"
                  Broadcast: Thursday, June 7, 2007
                  The cast rally round Tom, whilst Jordan gives birth.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: Mark Goffman
                  Directed by: Timothy Busfield

                  120 - "K&R Part II"
                  Broadcast: Thursday, June 14, 2007
                  Jordan is having complications and Simon makes a regrettable statement to the press.
                  Teleplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Story by: Jack Gutowitz & Ian Reichbach Directed by: Dave Chameides

                  121 - "K&R Part III"
                  Broadcast: Thursday, June 21, 2007
                  As the hostage situation appears to be getting worse, Tom accepts help to try and buy his brother out. Jordan is critical.
                  Written by: Aaron Sorkin and Mark McKinney
                  Directed by: Timothy Busfield

                  122 - "What Kind of Day Has It Been"
                  Broadcast: Thursday, June 28, 2007
                  As the last in the series- I couldn't possibly ruin it by telling you what happens- you'll just have to watch and find out!
                  Written by: Aaron Sorkin Directed by: Bradley Whitford

                  The series starts out as excellent as we learn more about the characters and the behind the scenes insanity of running a television show. The problem is that there is simply not the diversity and relevance of material that a show like the West Wing had to sustain it. When the show does try to have a social commentary it doesn't quite pull it off; it is much more successful when exploring characters than the political climate of America.

                  When things between Matt and Harriet (the Ross and Rachel of the show) get really bad the show starts slipping into flashback sequences. Whilst as a one off this would work as a change of style, the fact that it does it so often starts to feel like a cop out of actually writing well in the presence. The hostage situation and difficult birth lead to some real emotional content, but the show has lost some of its spark by this point.

                  The show met critical acclaim from the pilot, but failed to sustain audiences well enough to generate a second series. If you watch all 22 episodes, and are anything like me, you will enjoy all of them, but increasingly feel like something is lacking.


                  ***Awards***

                  Art Directors Guild 2007 Nominated
                  Excellence in Production Design Award Television - Single Camera Television Series
                  For the pilot episode.

                  Banff Television Festival 2007 Won Banff Rockie Award Best Continuing Series
                  For the pilot episode.

                  Directors Guild of America, USA 2007 Nominated DGA Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series' - Night
                  For the pilot episode.

                  Emmy Awards 2007 Won Emmy Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
                  John Goodman
                  Nominated Emmy Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series
                  Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series for the pilot.
                  Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for the pilot.
                  Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series Eli Wallach

                  Golden Globes 2007 Nominated Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
                  Sarah Paulson

                  Satellite Awards 2006 Nominated Satellite Award Best Actor in a Series, Drama
                  Matthew Perry
                  Best Actor in a Series, Drama, Bradley Whitford
                  Best Actress in a Series, Drama, Sarah Paulson
                  Best Actress in a Series, Drama, Amanda Peet

                  Writers Guild of America, USA) 2007
                  Nominated WGA Award (TV) New Series


                  I do recommend the show as a good watch, particularly if you enjoy witty comedy dramas. Just be aware that the rest of the series doesn't quite live up to the first few episodes.

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                  • West Wing / TV Programme / 27 Readings / 26 Ratings
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                    16.12.2007 15:36
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                    Witty comedy drama set in the White House

                    Set in the West Wing of the White House, Washington DC, this witty drama series follows the daily operation of the administration of the fictional Democratic president Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen).

                    Created by Aaron Sorkin for Warner Bros the West Wing was originally broadcast on NBC from 22nd September 1999 to 14th May 2006, and has since been broadcast by many networks in dozens of other countries. The series creator Aaron Sorkin left in 2003 at the end of the fourth series, being replaced by a new writing team.

                    I have come to the series somewhat late and am now working my way through from start to end on DVD. Whilst each episode works as an individual piece, there is a definite growing ongoing storyline that carries you through the series. The drama is filmed in a recreation of the White House West Wing and Oval Office (and occasionally on location), which adds a sense of reality to this world of endless witty dialogue.

                    From the first episode I found myself pretty much hooked. The witty language and sarcastic humour appeals to me; whilst the political and personal struggles within the drama are interesting. Each episode is well written and beautifully crafted, which results in a programme that I keep coming back to for more. There are not many programmes that I feel the need to watch every episode produced of, but this is one of those few.

                    The programme explores the moral struggle of the decisions that the President and his senior staff must make; the way in which the media is controlled; and the tensions with the Republican opposition in Congress, and politicians of other countries. A great deal of humanity and humour also stems from the characters' attempts to lead some form of personal lives whilst working literally all the time in one of the most high profile places in the world.

                    With seven years of series there are far too many episodes to give a guide to, but if you want details check them out here: http://www.tv.com/the-west-wing.

                    The interesting characters have humour and a dedication to their job and beliefs that touches your heart, while the politics that they discuss explore a variety of issues in everyday life. The punchy back and forth dialogue between the characters gives the show a great witty pace, and without exception the performances are of a high quality.

                    The Core Cast:

                    Martin Sheen President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett
                    John Spencer Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (1999-2005)
                    He died of a heart attack at the end of series six.
                    Bradley Whitford Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua "Josh" Lyman
                    Richard Schiff Head of Communications Toby Zachary Ziegler
                    Rob Lowe Deputy Head of Communications Samuel "Sam" Norman Seaborn (1999-2003)
                    Allison Janney Press Secretary Claudia Jean "C.J." Cregg
                    Janel Moloney Josh's PA Donnatella "Donna" Moss
                    Stockard Channing President's Wife Abbey Bartlet (2001-2005)
                    Dulé Hill President's Charge Charlie Young
                    Moira Kelly Mandy Hampton (1999-2000)
                    Joshua Malina Will Bailey (2002-2006)
                    Alan Alda Senator Arnold Vinick (2004-2006)
                    Kristin Chenoweth Annabeth Schott (2005-2006)
                    Mary McCormack Kate Harper (2004-2006)
                    Jimmy Smits Representative Matthew Santos (2004-2006)

                    It's the characters that really drive this show. Of course the political struggles and contemporary global issues are interesting, but it's these intricately created characters that keep you coming back for more. Each one has their own detailed past, their own quirkiness and often eccentricities, but they are all driven by an unequivocal goal to do good and realise their values within the world. This purity of motive makes them heroic, but it's the fact that they are all caught in being human and making mistakes which makes them real, and draws you as an audience member in close. I find myself actually caring what happens to each of the characters.

                    The West Wing won two Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards, which is a tie with Hill Street Blues for the most Emmy Awards ever won by a television drama series. This includes winning Outstanding Drama Series for four years in a row from 2000-3. Now that's pretty impressive if you ask me, and when you watch it you can see why. There is real drama within each episode, on a national or global political scale, but also within the life of its central characters. This juxtaposition of public and personal drama is what really makes this program so special, and why it was so sustainable.

                    At its peak, it was among the most popular shows on US television with audiences of 17 million, and was frequently praised by critics. The seventh season made its debut with 7.6 million viewers in a less prominent Sunday night slot.

                    Whilst the show continues to work well throughout, as with most of these programmes, it is the early series which have the most punch. The danger with anything is if it becomes successful then it runs for ever and this dilutes its effect. Whilst the West Wing avoids dilution better than most, it does not escape it completely. As appealing and interesting as the characters are, after seven years of virtually the same central cast, what more is there left to do?

                    It's an impressively sustainable witty drama that is entertaining whilst having a real truth to it. I recommend it.

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                    • Animal Free Shopper / Cookbook / 42 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                      16.12.2007 00:15
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                      A really useful guide to animal free food, drinks, and products.

                      Animal Free Shopper is the most comprehensive guide to shopping for vegan products that I can find. If you want to shop ethically and with the wellbeing of animals in mind then this book is a real help.

                      As a vegan, or anyone with strict dietary requirements, it can be very difficult to shop. Products are not always labelled clearly, things like "flavourings" give you no idea of what's actually in them, and supermarket bakery products are often left unlabelled. Whilst you can search out bakery staff to question who then look at you strangely and have to search for ingredients lists; and you can write to companies for product information; you end up giving up and buying the same few products all the time. This book saves time, opens up new foods and products that you would had to avoid out of doubt, and puts a wealth of information about products and companies at your fingertips.

                      For products to qualify to be included in the book they must, as far as is possible and practical, be entirely free from animal involvement. This means: No animal ingredients in the manufacture and/or development of the product, and where applicable its ingredients, must not involve, or have involved, the use of any animal product, by-product or derivative. There must also be no animal testing in the development and/or manufacture of the product, and where applicable its ingredients, must not involve, or have involved, testing of any sort on animals conducted at the initiative of the manufacturer or on its behalf, or by parties over whom the manufacturer has effective control.

                      Covering vegan products ranging from food, cosmetics, drink to home and gardening and everything in between, this really is an essential guide for the vegan shopper.

                      It also contains comprehensive supermarket own brand listings, E numbers to watch out for; and even has veggie/vegan group contact details, and company contact details.

                      The book is clearly divided up into contents section, each of which is sub-divided, and it the index is also there for finding specific products.

                      The book is especially useful in regards to whole-food shops, and supermarkets, especially now (in its 6th edition) that it has a separate section on supermarkets. I find this really useful for supermarket bakery products, as these rarely have ingredients listed on them. It helps in increasing the amount of products I can get as before I would simply avoid anything I was unsure of.

                      There is a clear key to help you identify the suitability of products and companies. The key identifies whether companies test on animals or not, have a vegan proprietor, whether the product holds the vegan trademark, and whether all their products are vegan. This helps not only with knowing what products are suitable for use, but identifies which ethical companies that you want to look out for.

                      This handy pocket-sized guide is ideal for use when out shopping (especially with so many products being so inadequately labelled) and is the easiest way to get started on an animal-free lifestyle. It's downfall is that in being simple to use and pocket sized it can only contain so much information, and as companies change product recipes it is in constant need of updating.

                      I recommend it to anyone new to the world of shopping ethically and with animal welfare in mind.

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                      • Gilmore Girls / TV Programme / 31 Readings / 27 Ratings
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                        15.12.2007 16:52
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                        Lightning fast witty dialogue

                        Created by Amy Sherman, Gilmore Girls tracks the unnaturally close friendship of a young single mum and her teenage daughter in an all too quaint back town of America. However you describe the series it sounds corny and agonisingly pointless, and yet it is in fact intelligent, creative, and sophisticated in every way.

                        The cheesy title sequence of family hugs and friendly smiles is accompanied by the soundtrack song "Where You Lead I Will Follow", appropriately by the mother and daughter duo Carole King and Louise Goffin. From which point you are quickly propelled into the surreally quaint town of Stars Hollow where the most unlikely combination of eccentric characters live in almost harmony.

                        It's a product of Warner Brother's Studio (I even got to walk through some of the sets whilst I was there in 2005). In the UK it has been shown on the Hallmark channel. All seven series are available one DVD. A series costs anything up to £28.99 for a six disc set, however the complete 7 series are available as a box set for about £50 total if you look around.

                        The show revolves around the 30 something Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). Coming from prestigious Gilmore heritage, Lorelai found herself at odds with a world of high society, rebelled, got pregnant young, ran away to the sleepy town of Stars Hollow, found a job as a maid and worked her way up to manager. Now this gorgeously successful woman shares a best mate relationship with her uncannily clever daughter who due to Harvard University aspirations needs to go to private school. This leads Lorelai to have to go to her parents for money and be permanently tied in to Friday night dinners back home with her dreaded mother (a cause of many uncomfortable and highly humorous situations).

                        Each episode follows the quirky lives of this all too perfect pair, who manage to live their entire lives whilst being constantly witty and annoyingly thin, despite the inconceivable amount of takeout the regularly plough their way through. Although being drowned in all American sweetness, the show does explore the all too real issues of growing up, living within society, raising children and dealing with strained family relations.

                        The characters are cheesy and at first seem stereotypical, but the detail with which they are created and portrayed leads to them quickly becoming believable and real, if still a little absurd. There are some that work better than others, and I can't help sighing when an episode spends a little too much time focussed on Rori's Korean, band drummer friend.

                        My favourite secondary character is the nice guy, yet town misery guts, Luke Danes (Scott Patterson). He is the rugged diner owner who provides daily sustenance and an abundance of coffee to the mother daughter pair. A secondary storyline that runs from the first moment of the series is the destined-to-be romance between Lorelai and Luke. Of course the path of true love never did run smooth, but you are rooting for them from the start.

                        The long-term storylines creatively interlink with town happenings and the activities of some truly bizarre characters, such as Kirk (Sean Gunn) who has unsuccessfully attempted every job known to man. What's really special about the show is that you find yourself drawn close to all of its cast members, genuinely caring what happens to them. Although I am most definitely not a small town kind of gal, I find myself wanting to live in this starry little town.

                        This is more one for the girls I think, but as I'm generally not into girly shows and as my fiancé was hooked by the second viewing (after his initial impression being that of a bunch of women wittering) I think there is something to appeal to guys too.

                        The lightning fast dialogue, witty humour, and intricate storylines make for a highly entertaining drama.

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                          14.12.2007 14:09
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                          Enjoyable- but no need to go back

                          Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is one of the two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China. The territory lies on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta, bordering Guangdong province in the north and facing the South China Sea. Beginning as a trading port in the 19th century, Hong Kong has developed into a leading worldwide financial centre. Hong Kong was also a crown colony of the United Kingdom from 1842 until the transfer of its sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997.

                          There are some places in the world that I am desperate to visit for obvious reasons, such as the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon, or the Great Barrier Reaf. There are others which just seem to get stuck in my head for one reason or another and find themselves on my list of places I must visit. Hong Kong is one of these places, perhaps because I was 16 when it was all over the news for changing sovereignty, and it seemed somewhere fascinating and far away to me. So there I was in Hong kong this summer.

                          Having a separate government to mainland China means that you don't need to apply for a special visa to visit, like you do for the mainland. It is also easier for tourists as all major signs are in English as well as Chinese. You will find that the majority of people in the city speak English.

                          Hong Kong Airport is ridiculously huge, with over 100 shops, not to mention restaurants and a cinema. Getting to and from the airport is easy. I suggest booking a place on a coach, it's a very comfortable ride in seats like those in the business section of an airplane, and is great value for money.

                          I stayed on Kowloon in the BP International overlooking the park, and beyond that Victoria Harbour. This was a good location for shopping and getting to the harbour quickly; the park is a lovely place to relax and spend an afternoon reading too. What was particularly great though is at 8pm every night the main buildings along the both sides of the harbour put on a light show, and I could see this from my room. I also conveniently arrived on a night when there was a major lightning storm, of which I had the most amazing views- I'd never seen so much lightning.

                          The Hong Kong Island part of Hong Kong is a simple, cheep, and very pleasant ferry ride across the water. The Star Ferry runs regularly from the clock tower on Kowloon to Chung Wan, the central district. This is where all the huge department and designer stores can be found. A series of raised walkways link these high class shopping complexes. If you like to shop (and have the money to do so) then Hong Kong is definitely the place for you. You can also jump on and squeeze into double-decker trams to get around the area.

                          The reason I ventured over this side of the water though was to take the Peak Tram up to Peak Tower. Be prepared for a long queue as this is a popular attraction; I was truly grateful for the bottle of water and book that I had on me. Peak Tower has some shops, dining, and a Madame Tussauds, none of which interested me- I was there for the views. The views of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon were great, but the high humidity (I was there in August) meant that photographs came out looking greyish.

                          Back on Kowloon the harbour area houses the Cultural Centre, Space Museum, and Hong Kong Museum of Art. Outside the Cultural Centre was a music festival so I sat on the stairs and enjoyed a free concert. There were also some craft stalls, the most notable content was hand crafted jewelry. The Museum of Art was definitely worth the small entrance fee, it houses a vast collection of imperial Chinese art. Just outside is also the Hong Kong Avenue of the Stars, like Hollywood's but for Chinese stars, Bruce Lee being the main attraction, with his very own statue.

                          Nathan Road, which leads up from the harbour, is the main road for shopping and seems to never end. Every other shop seems to be a Rolex one, and you will be regularly confronted by Indian men trying to get you to go and look at their knock of watches. Hong Kong is definitely a place to pick up designer products at reasonable prices (well as reasonable as they get) and knock off versions of anything.

                          North of Kowloon Park is Temple Street market, which comes to life about 8pm each evening, and is a great place to pick up a variety of reasonable priced souvenirs. There is also a never ending supply of nock of designer glasses, clothes, watches, and bags. So if you want to look good for less, this is definitely the place to visit. To be honest I just enjoyed wandering round and soaking up the atmosphere.

                          There are lots of tourist day trips available. I wouldn't bother with any for Kowloon or Hong Kong Island as they are easy to navigate by yourself. I did however take the day trip out to Lantau Island, as without a car this would be difficult to get to. The attraction of the Island is the largest free-standing Buddha in the world at the Po Lin Monastery. The monastery draws vast numbers of Buddhists for prayer, in addition to the many tourists. The vegetarian lunch at the monastery was the best meal I had out there. But the real attraction is walking up the couple of hundred steps to the giant Buddha. Although the tourist numbers can make for a busy setting, there is something ultimately serene and peaceful here. A complete contrast to the main attraction of this island: Disney Land, of which I steered well clear.

                          The highlight for the trip for me was the small boat trip to Ngong Ping, near where the monastery is located. The village here is a real old fishing village with small buildings on the canal jutting out on stilts. For the first time here I felt like I was experiencing traditional Hong Kong. What I enjoyed most though was getting to see the small pink dolphins that frolic about in the waters near here.

                          The city is easily accessible and feels relatively clean and the pollution low. It's a great destination for shopping, if that's your thing. I enjoyed my time here, but feel no need to go back.

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                          • Hustle / TV Programme / 35 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                            13.12.2007 22:16
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                            As well crafted as the long cons the team carrys out

                            Hustle, perhaps the greatest drama to have ever come out of the BBC (at least in my opinion), follows the exciting lives of a group of con artists elegantly carrying out elaborately deceptive long-cons on well-deserving deceitful marks throughout London.

                            Series one aired in 2004 and commanded an average audience of nearly 6 million from the offset, resulting in an almost immediate commission from the BBC for the second series.

                            Hustle is produced by the same team who created Spooks, with Executive Producers Jane Featherstone and Simon Crawford Collins. It is written by Tony Jordan, chief story consultant on EastEnders at the time, with the intention of being (to quote the BBC's website) "slick, stylish and sexy". In my view it achieves its intent with entertaining sophistication, and I can't be the only one who thinks so as it has now run for four successful series.

                            In the first three series the gang was led by Mickey Stone, performed by the tantalisingly talented Adrian Lester. Danny Blue (Marc Warren) is the lovable cheat who becomes the latest member of the group, taking the noble step up to leader in the fourth series when Adrian Lester leaves, much to the detriment of the series. Stacey Monroe (Jaime Murray) provides the all needed female class and reason to this surprisingly noble band of deceitful brothers. With the roper Albert Stroller, played by Robert Vaughn of The Man from Uncle (among many other things) fame, and the go-to-guy Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister) the gang is complete; well until Mickey leaves, Danny steps up and Billy Bond (Ashley Waters) appears in a convenient repeat of Danny's character in the first series. It's made up of a well rounded and talented cast providing a perfect blend of characters. However, although the series carries on brilliantly without Adrian Lester and remains fresher than most series do by their fourth round, there's a certain spark that has been lost.

                            In each episode the roper identifies a suitably sleazy mark, the boss works out an intricate plan of deception, which is then carried out by himself as the inside man, with the individual talents of each group member each playing an essential role. The audience are only ever shown part of the con and are often conned themselves, only fully understanding what has transpired when it is revealed to them at the end. I'm one of those annoying people who generally spots every twist coming, but for the first few episodes even I was tricked! Although since then I have generally guessed most of the twists, I am still usually pleasantly surprised by a detail or two that even I missed, making this by far the most interesting viewing experience I get to enjoy. Despite the set formula each episode is as individual and unique as the con itself.

                            The plans are ingeniously thought up and executed with true flare. What really makes this series stand out to me though is the creativity of style. Although a contemporary drama, Hustle has no problem in seamlessly flowing into a silent movie, dance routine, Bollywood musical number, or character asides to camera. The style is fresh and playful, whilst adult in its sophistication, and artful in its execution. As a highly cynical viewer who often derives great pleasure in picking apart all aspects of a programme, I find myself fully suspending my disbelief and wanting to get as close to the television set as I can so as not to miss a moment of this sumptuous treat.

                            According to Glenister in an interview in The Stage newspaper back in May 2007, when it comes to the plans for a fifth series "The BBC put us on hold because they don't know where the money's coming from. Whether we do another series or just a one-hour special I don't know. The BBC has left it rather late as some of the cast have other commitments." The airing of this six episode series wonder has made my viewing year for the past four years in a row; can there really be no more Hustle to hope for?

                            Whilst I covet the idea of more Hustle, I believe that one of its strengths ties in to the fact that it is only a six part series, allowing for each episode to be beautifully crafted and removing any space for 'padding' episodes which appear in the middle of most series. I fully enjoyed the fourth series, despite the absence of the character Mickey Stone, but I have to admit they did recover some old ground, that is only in amongst bigger, better, and flashier cons in the States.

                            Perhaps it is best to lay this masterpiece to rest as true icons need to disappear in their prime, so as not be discoloured by later dissatisfaction. Oh well, I shall just have to rewatch all the previous episodes again and again (although once you know every detail of the con it's slightly less fun).

                            But in my heart at least "the con is on", and will stay that way.

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                              13.12.2007 21:21
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                              The home of motors and Motown

                              I decided to visit Detroit, not the most obvious of holiday destinations, as I was heading past it to Chicago, and couldn't resist visiting the definitive home of Motown music. Located a couple of hundred miles east of Chicago, Detroit is also a city on the waterfront of the vast lakes where the borders of America and Canada meet.

                              The city itself is one which has faded from its former glory days as the heart of America's vast motor industry. The central core of businesses and shops is fringed with boarded up buildings which have clearly laid derelict for a good many years.

                              The Marriot Courtyard on the harbour front was an attractive, comfortable, and surprisingly reasonably priced place to stay. It also had the most convenient location for accessing what the city does have to offer.

                              A good way to get your bearings is a quick jump on the monorail, which you can pick up within the Marriot Courtyard building, that will take you on a raised circular tour of the city. It also highlights how easily walkable the city is as it's relatively condense.

                              Just north-east of the harbour are the Italian and Greek Quarters, where the best food and what night life there is can be found. The Greek restaurants offered particularly tasty and well priced dining. There's also a Casino should you wish to say goodbye to your holiday spending money.

                              The Renaissance Center is a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers on the harbour front, and the tallest building in Michigan since 1977. The entire Renaissance Center complex is owned by General Motors Corporation, as its world headquarters. The central tower, is occupied by the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center (more expensive than the Courtyard on the opposite side of the road), the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere with the largest rooftop restaurant, called Coach Insignia. The complex contains many restaurants, a variety of shops, and the vehicle display known as GM World. However, when I went in I didn't find it particularly accessible- perhaps I missed something. Next to it, is the Hart Plaza, an outdoor paved area where events, concerts, and markets bring the waterfront to life.

                              There are three active major sports venues within the city: Comerica Park (home of the Major League Baseball team Detroit Tigers), Ford Field (home of the NFL's Detroit Lions), and Joe Louis Arena (home of the NHL's Detroit Red Wings). Walking past events taking place at these was the one time where the city felt like it was bursting with people and life.

                              The highlight of the visit for me was visiting the Motown Historical Museum in the house in which Motown was created. Founded in 1985 by Esther Gordy Edwards, the sister and employee of the man who started this musical movement, the museum preserves the Motown recording studios and offices all contained within this modest house on Grande Boulevard. The museum is open from 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday and is a bargain at $10 (£5) admission.

                              The museum exhibits trace the roots of Motown's remarkable story and chronicle its impact on 20th century popular culture and musical styles. The exhibitions include a fascinating collection of historical photographs, artwork, music, costumes and other memorabilia from this booming musical era. Visitors are guided round by highly knowledgeable volunteers. Unfortunately all the other members of my guided group were comparative experts on the subject of all things Motown and I was left feeling even more clueless than when I had gone in.

                              It you're into cars then Detroit is a great place to explore impressive car showrooms filled with shinny automobiles old and new, although you will need a car yourself to get out to most of them. I visited one for the sake of it, but as a less than car enthusiast I was not particularly interested; a quick circuit and I was out the door.

                              Somewhat more interesting is the Ford Museum complex, open seven days a week 9.30am-5pm. At the site there is the preserved historic Greenfield Village and a Ford Rouge factory line tour and Imax film; none of which took my fancy. What I did pay the $14 entry fee for was the Ford Museum, which is far more than a simple car museum. Whilst lots of interesting cars, such as the one Kennedy was assassinated in, can be found here, there is also the history of trains and aeroplanes with lots of genuine models contained within the museum walls. One of the old steam trains is so gargantuan that the museum was constructed around it. In addition there are artefacts significant in the history of America, such as the bus in which Rosa Parks took a giant step in the direction of equal rights and refused to be pushed to the back, and the theatre chair President Lincoln was assassinated in. There is a vast section on American design history, and a changeable exhibit (baseball when I was there).

                              The absolute highlight of the museum for me was touring the Dymaxian House. This revolutionary house is the invention of R. Buckminster Fuller and was designed to be the strongest, lightest, and most cost effective housing ever built. Built in 1946 (and fully restored) the circular self contained house is build out of aeroplane materials and came fully constructed at a bargain price- all you needed was a small plot of land. The design of the building is ingenious and utilised all the most recent technology of the time. If the banks had had the sense to back the financing then I believe the face of American suburbs would be very different today. It's rare that I come out of a museum enthusiastically discussing something I have just seen, but this really captured my imagination.

                              This geographical odyssey, as the only American city to look south towards Canada, did provide an enjoyable stop off on my holiday driving tour (a couple of nights break was plenty). However, it doesn't really have enough to it to recommend it as a holiday destination.

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                                13.12.2007 18:19
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                                If you're in Las Vegas you simply have to go to the top.

                                If you are in Las Vegas, then the Stratosphere Tower is a must visit landmark attraction. Go to the top of this 1,149 foot tall building and get great panoramic view of Las Vegas and the strip.

                                Centrally located, the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas is at the top of the Las Vegas Strip. The Stratosphere is the closest Strip property to Downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience. It's meant to be a pretty impressive place to stay- but I went for getting excellent value for money at the Hilton instead and simply visited the Stratosphere.

                                The Stratosphere boasts an 80,000-square-foot casino featuring over 50 table games and more than 1,500 slot and video poker machines. There are also amenities such as the race & sports book and keno to ensure that there is something to suit every gamer. It's a pretty cool casino- but not the most impressive on the strip. Try the MGM Grand and you'll be lost for days.

                                The Tower Shops mall is located on the second level at the top of the escalator near the property's main entrance. Stratosphere's Tower Shops is an International marketplace with a something for everyone. You find yourself walking along themed streets reminiscent of Paris, Hong Kong and New York City. The Tower Shops house a wide variety of shops and an array of specialty retail carts.

                                So far the Stratosphere doesn't stand out as anything too special- but then this iconic tower structure comes into its own!

                                The Stratosphere boasts the tallest free standing observation tower in the United States. Standing 1,149 feet, the Tower is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and is more than twice the height of any other building in Nevada. With indoor and outdoor observation decks, the spectacular 360 degree views of Las Vegas make for unforgettable photo opportunities.

                                Located more than 800 feet above Las Vegas in the Stratosphere Tower, the award-winning Top of the World Restaurant offers an (almost) unique dining experience. Awarded "Best Gourmet Room" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Top of the World features culinary delights served in an elegant atmosphere with unparalleled views of Las Vegas as the restaurant revolves 360 degrees in one hour and 20 minutes. Do be expecte4d to pay for the privilege though and make sure you book in advance- I recommend lunchtime for better value for money. I didn't bother with this part as I had already dined at the Top of the World restaurant in the Sydney Tower, it's a great experience- but been there, done that.

                                The best thing about the Stratosphere though is the rides you can go on. Ok so they are nothing special from a theme park point of view- but the fact that they are over 100 floors up in this building at the foot of the Las Vegas Strip makes them great.

                                Insanity the Ride is a massive mechanical arm extending out 64 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere Tower at a height of over 900 feet, Insanity will spin you and several other passengers in the open air at speeds of up to three 'G's. You'll be propelled up to an angle of 70 degrees, which will tilt your body into one position - facing straight down! If you're brave enough to keep your eyes open like I did then you'll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of historic downtown Las Vegas. Just make sure you don't get on with anyone who looks to squeamish- I imagine that a lot of people find themselves puking on this ride (at least judging by the faces of my fellow riders that day they do).

                                X-Scream will propel you and several other riders head-first, 27 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere Tower. After being shot over the edge, you'll dangle weightlessly above the Las Vegas strip before being pulled back and propelled over again for more. The first time I went on this I was half way back in the carriage so it was enjoyable, but my view somewhat blocked by the heads of people in front (I recommend this for the more nervous rider). I went back round and queued up until I could sit at the front. Wow- imagine being at the front of a roller coaster, coming to the end of the track and finding that you are dangling 900 foot up in the air! Great fun- I just wish I could have had a camera on me to photograph the superb view point of the strip.

                                The Big Shot thrill ride catapults 16 riders from the 921-foot high platform up the Tower's mast to a height of 1,081 feet. Travelling at 45 miles per hour, riders experience 4G's as they reach the very top, and feel negative G's on the way down. For me this was only enjoyable because I was watching the Strip disappeared into the distance as I was on it- I preferred dangling over the edge of the tower more!

                                SINGLE TICKETS
                                Adult $10.95
                                Insanity $9.00
                                Big Shot $9.00
                                X-Scream $9.00
                                Tower Audio Tour $6.00
                                Locals, Seniors, Hotel Guests and Children 4-12 $7.00
                                Children 3 years and under FREE
                                Locals, Seniors, Hotel Guests and Children 4-12 $3

                                XTREME VALUE PACKAGES
                                Xtreme All-day Unlimited Package $30.95
                                Tower Admission and 3 Rides $24.95
                                Tower Admission and 2 Rides $20.95
                                Tower Admission and 1 Ride $16.95

                                I recommend the unlimited package!

                                Overall it's in a good location for a hotel, the casino and shopping mall are pretty good, and the rotating restaurant makes for some more interesting dining I'm sure. The Stratosphere is definitely worth a visit for the views from the observation deck, but the real fun is to be found in the rides!

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                              • gowander.com / Internet Site / 22 Readings / 20 Ratings
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                                13.12.2007 13:38
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                                Great for sharing experiences and advice

                                Go Wander (www.gowander.com) is the new website brought to you by Wanderlust. It is designed for travellers (and of course readers of the Wanderlust travel magazine) to share their travel experiences, tips, photos, videos, and enter into travel related discussions.

                                GoWander.com is brought to you by the team behind the award-winning Wanderlust travel magazine. Founded 14 years ago, Wanderlust has grown from a bedroom business to gain an audience of over 100,000 readers and subscribers in 112 countries. As per my recent review you can see that I'm quite a fan of the magazine, and having just got the online contribution bug from joining dooyoo, I couldn't resist checking this new website out.

                                GoWander is, as they phrase it,: "a place to share your travel experiences, photos and videos, make recommendations, meet travel companions, and get answers to all your travel queries. It's your site - and with our unique points system, the more you give, the more you get".


                                On goWander.com you can:

                                Create your own travel CV

                                Simply click on the names of the countries that you have visited and your very own world map starts to get filled in. This is quite fun (particularly as I've moved house and have yet to find a place to put up my world map with stickers on for where I have been). The only issue with this is that it does it by country, so having visited Balboa in Spain it looks like I've travelled the whole country.

                                You can also form your own travel profile, with details of your favourite travel experiences and places in the world.


                                Share your travel experiences, photos and videos

                                Whether it's a quick note on a great little hotel or a trip diary from a round-the-world odyssey, goWander.com is the ideal place to share your travels with friends and other travellers. Plus you can post photos and videos to really bring your trips to life.


                                Join the debate in our forum

                                Where are the best baguettes in Luang Praban g? Can anyone recommend a tour guide in Timbuktu? How tough is Kilimanjaro really? In the Grapevine forum, you can put your queries to the real experts - other travellers who've been there. As I always find the best travel tips and suggestions come from fellow travellers, rather than books, I think this is a great idea!


                                Points mean prizes!

                                Every time you contribute to goWander.com, you earn points called 'footsteps'. The footsteps points system is designed to reward people who contribute regularly to goWander.com. The points are awarded as follows:
                                * - If your video is chosen as video of the week - 10 footsteps
                                * - If you post a travel experience - 8 footsteps
                                * - If you receive a comment on either an experience, video or photo you have posted - 3 footsteps
                                * - If you post a video - 3 footsteps
                                * - If you post a photo - 2 footsteps
                                * - If you start a discussion on our Grapevine forum - 1 footstep
                                * - If you post a comment - 1 footstep
                                * - If you respond to a discussion - 1 footstep

                                Plus, if your experiences, photos and videos are rated highly, you'll earn even more footsteps:
                                * ***** rating = 3 footsteps
                                * **** rating = 2 footsteps
                                * *** rating = 1 footstep

                                This is a great idea in theory, however, there is absolutely no information on what those prizes might be or just how many pints you need to be in the running for a prize. So expect nothing, and, who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.


                                The website is in its early stages and has only been up and running for a month or two. It looks like it has been set up well and is easily navigateable. However, viewing photos is painfully slow- and as more get added, I can only imagine this getting worse.

                                GoWander has got the makings of a great, fun website that given a bit of time to establish its self will be packed with lots of fascinating and useful information about how to explore the world around us.

                                If you want a travel magazine website, then the Wanderlust website (linked to the GoWander one) has the latest travel news, features, destination guides, interviews, reviews, competitions and much more. This website http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/ acts as an online version of their magazine.

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