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jenniferjain

jenniferjain
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Member since: 16.12.2008

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      25.05.2009 23:15
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      You'll be surprised how much even a tiny baby can enjoy books

      As soon as I found out I was pregnant I began buying books for my baby, and this was one of the first that I bought.

      The book really couldn't be any simpler - just three pages with an outline picture of "Mummy", "Daddy" or "Baby" on one side and a geometric pattern on the other side of each, entirely in black, white and yellow. The patterns increase in complexity throughout the book. The cloth pages have crinkly material so that they make a sound when scrunched, and the front page has a safe mirror suitable for babies.

      I couldn't wait to start showing my baby books, but even I was surprised when this one held his interest from just two days old! He stared at the faces and patterns immediately and they held his interest for several seconds at a time, not bad for a newborn! He also loved looking at himself in the mirror. As he became more aware he would stare for longer and longer. Sometimes I would "read" the book to him - there is no story so you can talk about whatever you like - other times he was happy just to look at it with no interaction from me.

      The handy velcro strap meant that I was happy to leave the book attached to the inside of his moses basket during the day, and later to the arch on his babygym. He would literally lie for ages just staring at the pictures. Sometimes he would complain a bit until we turned the page for him. His favourite picture was the final geometric pattern, and we were amazed at just how long he could stare at it. He's 4 months now and will still sit and look at it. As he gets bigger he'll interact with it in new ways, he's already learning to turn the pages and feel for the texture.

      Something to watch for though - our baby did spend quite a while lying with his head on one side looking at the pictures in the book. When he was a couple of months old we discovered that he was only able to turn his head one way. He's fine now, but if your baby spends a lot of time lying down looking at the book, be sure to rotate sides!

      This would be a fantastic baby gift, it is something that new parents may not have thought of and would really stand out among the usual gifts for baby. There are also several other books in the series which are similar and just as good.

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        17.05.2009 17:00
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        Pricy but good value

        This brightly coloured playmat has been a permanent feature of our living room for some time now! The playmat has a soft padded surface which is really comfortable on our wooden floors. The mat has various different patterns and textures, and each of the ladybird feet has either crinkly material or a bell inside. One of the ears has a squeaker inside and the other plays a tune when pressed. In the centre hangs a large flower with a mirror underneath, then two hanging ladybirds have smaller mirrors and two hanging caterpillars have a squeaker. The arches are removable and can also be moved out of the way.

        We were given this playmat second hand by some friends when our baby was only a few weeks old. At first we thought that he was far too young for it, but as soon as we placed him on it we could see that he was loving it! A quick shake of the arch makes everything bounce around and you can almost see his brain spinning as he tries to keep up with all the stimulation. Now 4 months old he is still enjoying it, and I can see that it will keep him occupied for a long while yet. He still enjoys lying on it and looking around the room, as well as looking at and reaching for the toys. He isn't a particularly sleepy baby, but I imagine that some babies could easily drop off on it as it's so comfy.

        One disadvantage of the mat is that it is quite bulky, you couldn't take it with you easily if you were visiting friends or relatives. It is also rather heavy and awkward to drag around. Another problem with it is that the hanging animals are quite awkwardly placed. When baby is positioned underneath the mirror under the central flower (his favourite part) now that he is a bit bigger (and he's not a tall baby) his feet quite often reach over the edge of the mat and bang on the floor, you need to make sure that he is lined up with one of the padded feet. Also it's difficult to position him so that he can reach the creatures hanging around the edges as they are quite high up and off centre.

        The mat was given to us having already been used by two babies, and it is still in excellent condition and should last for several more barring messy accidents! It does seem to be rather pricy if bought new, although as it would last for several babies this makes it better value for money. There are also a range of matching items available.

        So in summary, pricy but good value and will keep baby entertained for a long while (although like all these things for babies, only in short bursts!).

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        17.05.2009 10:24
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        All babies should have a book from this series!

        I won't write a description of this book, as that has already been covered elsewhere. But while my son has a selection of books from this fantastic series, I wanted to give this one a special mention as it is clearly his favourite.

        He's only 4 months old at the moment, but we've been showing him books since he was born, and this one attracted his interest very early on. He's not old enough to reach for the textures himself yet, but the bright, clear and colourful images hold his interest for a surprisingly long time (well he's only little, so a few seconds is a long time for him!). When we take his fingers and show him where to touch you can see the expression on his face change as he takes it all in. On the final page, the lion has a long shaggy mane, and for a while now he has been reaching for it himself and pulling at it. We can even leave him for a minute or two with the book propped open so that he can look at the pictures. I think that the reason this book particularly appeals is because most of the textures are soft and easy to touch.

        I can see that this book is going to be a staple of his bookshelf for a long time as he grows up and learns to pick up and read books for himself. It's very sturdy and I'm confident that it will last.

        I would thoroughly recommend this book, and would also suggest reading and showing it to babies younger than you would expect - you might be surprised at how much enjoyment they get from it!

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        13.01.2009 18:05
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        A really beautiful city with gorgeous architecture

        My husband and I visited Bratislava in May 2008. We travelled by boat from Vienna and left by train to Budapest, staying for two nights. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and is situated on the Danube River. I imagine that as a tourist destination it is becoming more popular, especially with the popularity of low cost airlines. However, one disadvantage of this is that it is particularly popular with British stag parties - a walk down the main streets during the day reveals numerous large groups of young men sprawled across tables in the bars with their pints and matching T-shirts. It is also popular for day trips because of its central location in Europe and convenient and reasonably priced transport connections.

        We arrived fairly early in the morning and walked from where the boat docked to our hotel. I was immediately struck by the beauty in the architecture, so much so that I couldn't stop taking photographs, to the surprise of my husband who is normally chief photographer. I just found that the colour and style of buildings really struck a chord with me. The streets were also full of unusual statues, like a man with his head sticking out of a drain.

        We spent a lot of time just walking around the town centre, admiring the buildings and fountains. A key sight is the castle at the top of the hill - a steep walk up is rewarded with beautiful views of the new city over the river with masses of tower blocks and the steep red roofs and spires of the old city.

        The two parts of the city are linked by the Novy Most Bridge - also known as the UFO Bridge because of the flying saucer shaped restaurant on top which is supported by long slanted pylons which look like beams of light. We walked about halfway over the bridge for views across both sides of the city.

        A highlight of our visit to Bratislava was actually a short way out of the city itself - Devin Castle which was reached in about 20 minutes on a very bumpy bus. The ruined castle lies at the join of two rivers - the Danube and the Morava. It was destroyed by Napoleon and was allowed to go to ruin, although parts of it were subsequently expanded upon and lived in by several generations of families. The grounds are dotted with archaeological excavations dating back thousands of years which were very interesting. It was a lovely sunny day and the blue sky was in brilliant contrast to the rugged grey walls and green trees - many beautiful photo opportunities! I would recommend taking a short walk along the river at the base of the castle for some gorgeous scenery in peaceful surroundings.

        We ate out one night at Pizza Mizza which is thoroughly recommended. We shared a massive 50cm pizza which was very tasty. We're quite fussy vegetarian eaters but we didn't have a problem finding suitable food, and the menus were all available in English translation (although you still need to be a bit careful - we ended up with hot peppers instead of green bell peppers on our pizza which was a bit of a surprise to our tender palates!) Evenings in Bratislava are very lively (helped by the stag groups as mentioned above) but the atmosphere generally felt very safe and friendly.

        We stayed in the Ibis Centrum Hotel, which wasn't quite in the centre but was a short and easy walk away. Being a budget hotel, it wasn't luxurious, but contained all the facilities that we needed, including free internet access in the lobby. We didn't have breakfast, but bought snacks from a local supermarket.

        Although we didn't spend a huge amount of time in Bratislava, I think that we stayed long enough to get a feel for the city. It fitted in nicely on our trip between two larger cities, and it was good to feel a little more relaxed for a couple of days. We could walk almost everywhere that we wanted to go, so we didn't feel rushed or overwhelmed like you sometimes can in large cities. It was very pleasant to stroll around and not have a massive itinerary of must visit attractions. So although one could experience a taster of the city in a day trip, I would recommend spending a little more time here to really allow you to explore.

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          13.01.2009 12:59
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          I couldn't do without these items when travelling!

          I am rather obsessive about packing for holidays! My type of holiday is either a city break (or a number of city breaks tacked together) or a longer, more adventurous holiday involving a selection of different cities and national parks. I like to think that I'm pretty good at packing, because I don't remember ever having forgotten anything essential!

          Here are my top ten indispensible items:

          1 - Documents (and photocopies of each one carried separately) - this includes passports, travel insurance, European Health Insurance Card if needed, travel and hotel reservation details and so on. I also leave a set of photocopies with my parents and a set at home.

          2 - Some form of cash or credit card. I use a debit card which allows me to make commission free cash withdrawals from cash machines and which has been very useful all over the world. I never use traveller's cheques any more as they are too much hassle and cash machines can be found everywhere.

          2 - Carrier bags - I can never have too many, and they take up no space at all! I use them for dirty washing, rubbish, keeping things dry, isolating wet clothes, shoes and umbrellas, sitting on outside, resting muddy feet on in the car - they have so many uses!

          3 - First aid kit - including paracetamol, loperamide and plasters. Although most things can be purchased abroad, sometimes the brand names are different and you never know where the nearest pharmacy will be.

          4 - Plastic folder for souvenirs - I always collect things on holiday that I don't want to get creased, so I use this for postcards, tickets, maps and other ephemera. Sometimes I fit a little pair of nail scissors in to cut out things as I go along to save space.

          5 - Journal and pen - I take an old exercise book to keep a diary of what I've been up to, then when I get home I create a travel scrapbook, using all the things that I collected above. It's always useful to have scrap paper and a pen as well, for writing notes and planning.

          6 - Comfortable shoes - very important! Best to take two pairs in case one gets wet, and make sure that the laces are in good condition before you leave. For a longer holiday sometimes it's nice to take a pair of slippers for lounging around hotel rooms (sometimes posh hotels are kind enough to provide disposable pairs that can be carried around for an entire road trip!)

          7 - Sun protection - a nice big floppy sun hat, high factor sun cream, sunglasses and lip balm are essential in order to be comfortable and safe.

          8 - Camera - I take lots of photos on holiday and think that digital cameras are a wonderful invention - you can check your photos as you go along and delete the rubbish ones, then you can choose which ones to print out when you get back. I just worry about losing the memory sticks! And don't forget the charger and a universal travel adaptor plug for charging.

          9 - Clothes - I always make sure to take a jumper, even for visiting hot countries, as I do get chilly in the evenings and in air-conditioned places. I tend to take clothes designed for comfort rather than style, as the sorts of places that I visit aren't too fussy, although it's nice to have a skirt just in case. A very useful item is a pair of combat trousers which zip off at different lengths, in case you are out all day and subject to temperature changes.

          10 - Toiletries - my essentials include a hair brush and hair bands, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. I tend to just pack little bottles and then rely on hotel supplies as I go along, but usually I take my own hair conditioner as that is something that hotels don't really do very well.Moisturiser is also a key item.

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          13.01.2009 10:53
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          Ways to keep yourself busy when waiting for baby to arrive

          I have been extremely lucky with my pregnancy so far, and going overdue is among the least serious of any pregnancy complications. But to keep me occupied in my wait, I thought I'd put together a list of things to do if you do go overdue.

          * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

          Re-calculate your due date using on-line calculators, books, magazines, advice from friends etc.

          Comfort yourself with statistics that show just how many women go overdue (I've read 45%)

          Go for a long walk (taking along of course medical notes, mobile phone and not venturing too far away)

          Have a hot bath

          Give yourself a manicure

          Give yourself a pedicure

          Sit in the nursery and admire all the new things you've bought

          Have a nap

          Learn how to use some of your more complicated purchases e.g. baby monitor, steriliser, camcorder

          Have a curry

          Enjoy a full night of sleep

          Make a full inventory of your baby clothes

          Start a baby scrapbook or journal

          Send out an e-mail to all your friends promising to tell them when you have any news so that they don't keep texting you

          Drink raspberry leaf tea to tone your uterus

          Practice your pelvic floor exercises

          Bounce on an exercise ball

          Sort through your collection of pregnancy magazines and leaflets, cutting out key articles and filing into categories

          Eat some raw pineapple

          Try other traditional ways to bring on labour (nudge nudge, wink wink)

          Watch baby kicking through your stomach - complain how uncomfortable it is and then worry if you don't feel anything for five minutes

          Double check that you have everything in your hospital bag

          Get the car cleaned so that it is nice for baby

          Practice taking the car seat in and out of the car

          Write out greeting cards for upcoming birthdays and occasions and stamp and address them ready to send out

          Make sure that the house is tidy for all the visitors

          Stock up on nice biscuits, tea and coffee

          Go out for a grown-up meal with your other half

          Go to the cinema

          Video your tummy going up and down

          Practice your breathing and relaxation techniques

          Take photographs of your tummy at its largest

          Plan your post-natal diet and exercise strategy

          Make the most of a tidy, clean house

          Two words - Perineal Massage

          Check you have an up to date contact list to take to the hospital

          Put on some loud music and have a sing-along to entertain baby

          Write articles for dooyoo!

          * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
          Fingers crossed we won't have to wait too long. Thanks for reading!

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            12.01.2009 12:09
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            I really couldn't recommend this place more

            Kangaroo Island is located southwest of Adelaide in South Australia. Although it's Australia's third largest island (after Tasmania and Melville Island) it's not that big. Often quoted as being seven times the size of Singapore, it's about 4.4 km square. It is accessible by ferry (for cars and passengers) or by air. We chose to travel by air using Regional Express, and then rented a car on the island for the duration of our stay.

            Some information which others might find useful - at first glance it seems a lot more expensive to fly to the island than go by ferry. But we found that hire car companies on the mainland will not allow you to take their hire cars to the island, either because of the high chance of being involved in a collision with wildlife, or because of the fact that many of the roads are not fully paved. So in order to get to the ferry terminal you have to arrange a bus transfer from Adelaide anyway. The ferry journey is also quite long, and we had heard that many people get seasick. The flight is very short (about 20 minutes) and car hire is available at the terminal in Kingscote.

            The main reason to visit Kangaroo Island is for its wildlife, and we were astounded at the abundance. It was our first real stop on our trip to Australia, and it wasn't really until we had travelled elsewhere that we realised just how spoilt we had been! Native creatures are quite literally everywhere, I think that it would be impossible to visit and not see anything. Despite its name, kangaroos are not the main creature that you can see. We saw seals, goannas (huge lizards), echidnas (huge hedgehogs), wallabies, koalas, even a black tiger snake, as well as kangaroos.

            Accommodation

            What really made our trip was where we stayed. We had a lovely self-contained cabin at the Western Kangaroo Island Caravan Park. It was very comfortable and had all the facilities that we needed. The best thing about it was its location. There was a short walking track leading from the campsite to a wooded area which was labelled a koala walk. We did the walk at different times during the day and saw not just koalas but all sorts of wildlife, really close up! There was a friendly koala in the tree that you could stand right next to (the staff at the campsite were even feeding and touching it, although we didn't really like to).

            Dining

            Because we didn't stay in one of the towns, our dining options were very limited, to the extent of being non-existent. We were self-catered, so bought supplies from the campsite
            shop and cooked up some pasta and sauce. If we were to stay in the same place again, we would know to buy food at the supermarket in Kingscote before we left, as the selection in the shop was limited and very expensive. There was a restaurant available at a hotel which wasn't too far away, but our car hire didn't cover us for driving in the dark so we would have had to have eaten very early! Kingscote though has a range of cafes and restaurants.

            Travelling around the island

            We used our hire car to travel around. The roads around the island fall into two categories- paved and unpaved - although the paved roads are not what we would describe as paved! They are covered in loose grit (I think it's so that they don't freeze over in winter). We were allowed to drive our hire car on these types of roads which surprised us, as it didn't really feel safe! But the unpaved roads were only allowed with a four wheel drive, which did mean that we couldn't visit every corner of the island, in fact it ruled out a whole section. But we still found plenty to see! As I mentioned above, we weren't insured to drive in the dark. This is probably a rule worth keeping to, as the wildlife really is so abundant that it would be impossible not to hit something, which would have been extremely distressing.

            Activities

            There is so much to see on the island that I can't possibly mention it all, so I will just mention our highlights. There is a link to download the Visitor Guide at the website below, and we basically printed this out and tried to see as much as we could in a sensible route around the island.

            At Seal Bay we took part in a guided tour of the beach (the only way to see it) where you can see Australian sea-lions sleeping on the beach, and cubs playing in the surf and chasing the seagulls. This was an amazing experience, the guides made sure that we kept to an appropriate distance, which was still extremely close.

            Flinders Chase National Park covers a large percentage of the island, although there isn't really a clear distinction between it and the rest of the island because the whole place is
            like one big national park. A highlight here was the Remarkable Rocks - a spectacular rock formation from volcanic rocks. There are a number of walks to choose from in the park, and we chose the Snake Lagoon Hike which turned out to be one of the highlights of our entire holiday. It was deserted, we saw only one other couple. The walk began through forest, then across a river and down a rocky path to a beautiful sandy beach which was really peaceful. Then on the way back we passed five or six goannas by the path, digging little holes. They were huge, and rather intimidating until we realised that they didn't care about us!

            We spent our last evening in Kingscote, one of the main towns. Here we joined the evening penguin tour. The Little Penguins spend the day out at sea, then in the evening they come in to their burrows on the coast. With the guide, you stand in wait on the beach and watch as they form a procession past you. The guides carry lights with red filters that the penguins can't see but allow you to watch them, and if you keep still and quiet they walk right past you! It was fascinating. The guide also shone the light into the burrows, and you could see the little chicks.

            Another part to this tour was a short stargazing talk. It was truly incredible how many stars were visible in the sky. You are so familiar with the few stars that we see here in the Northern Hemisphere that it feels disorientating when the constellations are all different. I don't know if more stars really are visible from the Southern Hemisphere, or whether it is just the lack of light pollution. I even saw a shooting star.

            Summary

            Kangaroo Island really is an amazing place to visit, and in my opinion is an essential part of a trip to this part of the world. Perhaps the cost and effort involved might put people off, but it is truly worth it hundreds of times over.

            http://www.tourkangarooisland.com.au/ - official site of the South Australia Tourism
            Commission and essential for planning a visit.

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              11.01.2009 16:32
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              An amazing place to visit

              Cape Tribulation is a small town in Queensland, Australia within the Daintree National Park. It is reached by sealed road from the Daintree River ferry, and is as far north as you can drive in a normal car. The town is only accessible via the ferry, which operates 6am-midnight every day except Christmas Day and Good Friday. However the road north from the crossing can be closed if there has been heavy rain.

              Because of its isolation it is somewhat off the beaten track for tourists, although very popular with younger backpackers. There is a feeling that a lot of the people now living there and working in the tourist industry started off as travellers and ended up settling there. Because of this they are all very enthusiastic about their home, and it is easy to understand how one could be tempted to visit and then remain there.

              When we visited in November it was very damp and humid, with not many chances to escape the temperature. We were often relieved to drive somewhere in our air-conditioned car.

              Everything is rather expensive, as it has to be transported from Cairns. I'd recommend taking some snacks and bottled water along (and to take any rubbish away with you out of consideration for the residents who have to dispose of it).

              The town is very compact. We used our car to travel though, as if you are going to be out at night there is no street lighting and it would be easy to get lost (not to mention the jungle creatures that are around at night!).

              Accommodation

              There are not a lot of accommodation options in Cape Tribulation, and none that would be called luxurious. We stayed for two nights at the Rainforest Hideaway (www.rainforesthideaway.com). This bed and breakfast accommodation is formed of several cabins built by the owner. We stayed in an en-suite room to the main building, the other
              cabins are detached (one apparently has a bathroom which is open to the elements on one side, for a true jungle showering experience!). It was a bit rustic, with no air-conditioning and very damp. It was also very noisy at night with the sounds of the jungle. But it was certainly an experience, and nothing could compare to really feeling that you were right in the heart of the rainforest. The breakfast was amazing, including a selection of exotic fruits that we had never heard of before, let alone ever tasted.

              Dining

              The first night we ate at the Cassowary Cafe. The menu was somewhat limited, especially for us fussy vegetarians. The setting was nice though and the service was friendly. It was also
              air conditioned which was a bit of a relief. The second night we ate at PK's Jungle Village Bar and Restaurant. This was cheaper, and clearly aimed at backpackers. We had a simple pasta, followed by a short walk down to the beach. There are also a couple of other restaurants in the town.

              Activities

              There is lots for tourists to do in Cape Tribulation! The first day we went jungle surfing - strapped in a harness and travelling along wires through the trees. This was really fun, and also educational as the guides told us all about the forest as we
              went around, even trying to interest us in eating green ants which apparently tasted of lemons (we declined).

              In the centre of town is a swimming hole - a creek where all the backpackers hang out to swim with fish and even turtles.

              At the Exotic Fruit Farm you have the chance to try some exotic fruit which is not grown commercially, either because they are too delicate to grow and transport, or not worth it because the edible part of the fruit makes up such a small percentage of the fruit. This is a real shame, because most of them were delicious! We also had a tour around the orchard to see the fruit being grown, which was really interesting.

              There are several marked walks, around boardwalks and along the beach. Lots of opportunities to see crabs and other wildlife, including a leech which bit me at some point, although I didn't realise until I wondered where all the blood was coming from!

              We were also brave enough to try the Jungle Safari - this took place at night in the pitch dark. We had a guided walk through the jungle, looking for wildlife. We saw lots of creatures that we would have preferred not to know they were there - huge crickets with far reaching antennae, big spiders and enormous lizards. It was fascinating although terrifying at the same time!

              In summary, out of all the places that we visited on our trip around Australia, this was the place that was most different to our previous experiences and expectations. We were really
              glad that we had made the effort to travel a little further, and possibly a little out of our comfort zone. A two night stay was long enough for us to get a feel for the place, and I wouldn't rule out returning, although part of the fun of being there was that we didn't know what to expect. I would fully recommend a detour here for visitors to Cairns, as it really was an amazing experience.

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                02.01.2009 15:32
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                The Great Barrier Reef is a once in a lifetime experience

                We visited the Great Barrier Reef in November 2007. My husband and I went on a day trip with Great Adventures, which we booked the day before at the ticket desk on the wharf in Cairns. It's also possible to book at the tourist office in town.

                We chose a trip which included a stop at Green Island on the way out to the reef. This was an excellent decision. Neither of us had snorkelled before, and at Green Island you have the opportunity to practice snorkelling from a gently sloping sandy beach rather than just being tipped out onto the somewhat daunting reef. There wasn't a huge amount to see in the water here, although perhaps we didn't go out far enough. However the setting was beautiful and the island had plenty of facilities, we were even able to have a shower before getting back onto the boat.

                Then the boat travelled to the Outer Reef and moored next to a permanent pontooned owned by Great Adventures which offered a number of activities.

                Firstly we went on the semi-submersible boat which took a smaller number of visitors at a time. It was amazing, there was so much sealife just below the surface. We went alongside a giant wall of coral, huge and formed in different shapes. There were all sorts of beautiful fishes, mostly in large shoals. Over a deeper part of the reef I saw a reef shark. We had a live commentary from the boat operator explaining what we could see.

                Then we had a small lunch from the buffet selection. We are vegetarians so stuck to the potatoes, pasta salad and fruit, but there was a wide selection of seafood on offer (which didn't seem quite right somehow considering what was swimming around under our feet below the pontoon!).

                Then it was time to collect the snorkelling equipment and jump off the side of the pontoon into the water. It was quite choppy, but not as deep as I had expected (although still a bit daunting to a novice!). There were floating rest points at intervals, so you could swim between them and stop for a rest and just to look downwards. You could get very close to the coral at some points, and it was fascinating to watch the fish swimming in and out. A lifeguard was keeping an eye out for everyone (although there were a lot of people in the water to watch!).

                Back on the pontoon we were able to have a quick freshwater shower, there weren't that many though and we were lucky to be early enough to beat the queues. The water just went straight out through slats onto the reef, so you couldn't use any soap. There were no toilets on the pontoon so you had to return to the main boat to use the ones there.

                We also stopped briefly in the underwater viewing observatory which was a large window looking out with pictures to identify the fish. Even here there was no escape from an ever present photographer swimming around outside. There was an opportunity to view and purchase these photos on the return journey and they were also available on the internet for some time after our return home.

                For us, as novice snorkellers, this was the best way to see the reef. The trip was very well planned and organised, and nothing was missing. We had a wonderful day, and really felt that we had experienced something special.

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                  24.12.2008 15:44
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                  All of Australia's river and sea life in one place

                  Sydney Aquarium is located in Darling Harbour in the centre of Sydney. It's easy to get to - we visited on a day when we had purchased a day ferry ticket, but it's also accessible by foot or by bus.

                  The Aquarium really is an amazing place to visit and was certainly one of our Sydney highlights. The best thing about it, compared to other aquariums I have visited around the world, is that everything in it is native to Australia. Australia really does have so much diversity in its sea and river life that it can fill an entire aquarium.

                  My husband and I visited towards the end of a fantastic trip around Australia, and it was a wonderful reminder of all the different creatures and habitats we had encountered on our holiday. We finally saw a platypus and crocodile, which had remained elusive in the wild, and we were reminded of our snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef with a huge display of reef fish. There was also an enormous walk through tank filled with sharks, turtles and rays where we could have spent hours, and another filled with seals and sea-lions.

                  The Aquarium is beatifully laid out and logically divided into areas relating to the different habitats. There is a programme of feeding for visitors. There are also several poignant exhibits on the threats to the marine environment, in particular to the Great Barrier Reef.

                  It wasn't cheap, there is a 10% discount voucher available on the website and vouchers can be picked up locally. We bought a combined ticket with the Sydney Tower, which doesn't have to be visited on the same day. There are also other combination tickets available.

                  We enjoyed the Aquarium very much as two adults, and it would be great for kids. It really did make it more interesting to know that everything there was a native creature.

                  http://www.sydneyaquarium.com.au

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                    24.12.2008 15:05
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                    Must-see attraction in Vienna

                    My husband and I visited Schloss Schönbrunn in May 2008. The palace is in Vienna, slightly out of the centre but easily reached by public transport including U-Bahn and tram. We arrived fairly early in the morning, but it was already very busy as it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Vienna.

                    We were faced with what felt like a bewildering array of ticket options (see http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/plan-your-visit/tickets-tours.html for a summary of the options). We settled for the Classic Pass, which included the full tour of the palace plus four other attractions within the grounds - the Gloriette, Maze, Apple Strudel Show and Privy Garden. We felt that it was quite pricey, but then we found Vienna in general to be very expensive. There was quite a queue to purchase tickets, in fact there was quite a queue for everything.

                    We began with the palace tour. We visited forty richly decorated rooms - a mixture of private rooms, public rooms, a grand hall and many smaller halls. The Grand Tour includes all the rooms that are open to the public. The rooms really were beautiful. You could spend as long as you wanted in each, although it was busy and the tour groups sometimes took over a bit.

                    Then we went out into the gardens. Entry to the main gardens is free, but our ticket allowed us further access to some areas. We visited the Gloriette, a narrow arched building which you can climb for superb views over the palace and further out over the city. Then we went into the Maze. The maze was quite tricky, luckily we had ice-creams to keep us fortified! Next to it was a smaller labyrinth filled with fun little games like stepping stones and musical features.

                    In the bakery our ticket entitled us entry to the Apple Strudel Show. This is something that we probably would have skipped otherwise, so I'm very glad that we went along. We had a piece of the strudel to eat (very tasty!) alongside a full demonstration of how to make it and a recipe to take home. It was most impressive to watch how the dough is spread out into a large, very thin shape.

                    We finished our tour in the Privy Garden, a small, peaceful, landscaped garden with shady walkways down the sides.

                    We spent a lot longer at the palace than we had anticipated, but this was not a bad thing! We felt as though we'd had a good look around and explored various different aspects of the palace, both inside and out. It really is beautiful and the gardens are magnificent. I would fully recommend a visit as part of a trip to Vienna. Just be sure to arrive early, and suss out the ticket options in advance (buy tickets in advance on-line if you know for sure when you're visiting).

                    http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/home.html

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                    22.12.2008 12:43
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                    Definitely worth spending some time here, especially for families

                    Sentosa Island is an island resort in Singapore. It's five kilometers square and located half a kilometer off the main island of Singapore. It can be reached by cable car, monorail or by causeway from the mainland. Once on Sentosa you can travel around by bus, but we found we were easily able to walk everywhere we wanted to go. The transport is weather permitting however, it can get pretty hot during the day for walking and the cable car can be shut in bad weather.

                    We approached Sentosa by monorail from the Harbourfront MRT station in the VivoCity Mall. We bought a combined ticket at the station which included the transport and admission to four attractions. After researching in advance, we chose the Sky Tower, the Sentosa Luge and Skyride, the Merlion and Fort Siloso.

                    We arrived fairly early in the morning, and the island was almost empty. It had a very "Disney" feel to it, absolutely spotless with beautifully tended vegetation, speakers in the flowerbeds playing catchy themetunes, and dancing fountains.

                    Our first stop was the Carlsberg Sky Tower (now known as the Tiger Sky Tower). This was an enclosed circular cabin set around a central pole. We sat facing outwards, and the tower rotated gently as it ascended and then continued to rotate slowly at the top. A recorded message told us what we were looking at, which was really interesting. There was a lot of construction going on, including a soon to be Universal Studios. You can see panoramic views of the whole island, and far out to sea. On a clear day you can even see Malaysia and Indonesia.

                    Then we went on the luge ride down the hill, which was brilliant fun. We rode in a small cart with just steering and brakes. The slope meant that you travelled pretty fast, and the course was long enough to really enjoy it. The chairlift took us back up the hill over trees, with further spectacular views.

                    Then we went into the Merlion, which was our favourite attraction. The Merlion is a mythical sea creature, half lion and half fish, and is the symbol of Singapore. The attraction was in essence a large statue with a staircase inside, but was extremely well presented and would be great for kids (and big kids like us). First we waited in a holding area with displays about mythical sea creatures, then we watched a little cartoon film about the merlion myth. Then we were given a lucky sand dollar coin to put into a mini merlion's mouth and received a card to claim a prize. Finally we took a lift up to the top and stood in the mouth of the Merlion for views and photographs. At the end we collected our prizes - a set of coasters and an inflatable zip pull (well I think that's what it was!). For the whole experience we were accompanied by a catchy, specially composed theme tune which stayed in our heads long afterwards. Fantastic!

                    Outside, we walked beside pretty mosaic fountains and down to the beaches at the bottom. It did seem a long hot walk to Fort Siloso, which is a little out of the centre. Fort Siloso guarded Singapore during World War II. There are a number of buildings and outdoor areas which tell the history of the site through life sized models and narrations. It was really interesting to learn about the history of the island and it was presented really well. Also everytime you walked anywhere it triggered sound effects of guns and recorded voices, which was quite funny.

                    We then spent a bit of time walking around the rest of the beautiful island, there are a number of nature walks, including one with dragon statues that took us back up to the top of the island. In all, we spent almost a day on the island.

                    Sentosa Island was a lovely day out. There is loads to do, even without visiting any of the paid for attractions. It would be a wonderful family day out, you could spend a lot of time on the beaches and doing the nature walks, and there is lots to see. I would love to return there one day with children.

                    Something to bear in mind is that the island is being continually redeveloped and has no doubt changed since our visit. So I would recommend checking out the very useful website for the latest information - http://www.sentosa.com.sg/

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                      21.12.2008 10:55
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                      Worth paying a little more for the location

                      My husband and I stayed in the Mercure Melbourne in November 2007 as part of a trip around Australia.

                      We approached Melbourne in our hire car from Apollo Bay. Finding the hotel would probably have been difficult for us without our sat nav, just as it's always difficult navigating around a new, busy city. We managed without any problems though, and drove straight into the underground car park where we could buzz through to reception and they let us in. This was a good move, because when we arrived at reception we heard someone there being told that there were no more spaces. We left the car here for our stay, as we didn't fancy driving around the city again until we needed to!

                      We were slightly early but were able to check in without any problems, and were delighted to find sparkling wine waiting for us in an ice bucket! One thing that we learned on this trip was that it always pays to mention a special occasion, like our honeymoon, at the time of booking!

                      The room was very smart, and what you would expect from this type of hotel. Very clean, tastefully decorated, with television, fridge and in-room safe. We just had a standard room and we were very pleased with it. Perhaps the only trouble with a chain hotel like this is that they are all very much the same, there is little originality in the furnishings and you know that every room in the same price band is going to be identical.

                      The hotel is very conveniently located, it's an easy walk to the shops, restaurants and other attractions such as Federation Square and the Eureka Skydeck. The area around the hotel felt very safe for strolling in the evening. The city was very lively at night because we were there at the time of the Melbourne Cup, but the hotel was very quiet and we weren't disturbed at all.

                      We didn't eat in the hotel, but there was a wide selection of dining options available within easy walking distance. The hotel does have a restaurant and bar though.

                      We paid slightly more for this hotel than for others on our trip, but I think that it was worth it for the excellent location.

                      http://www.mercuremelbourne.com.au/

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                      20.12.2008 17:46
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                      If you can spash the cash (or bag a discount) then fully recommended!

                      My husband and I stayed at the Cairns Hilton in November 2007 as part of a trip around Australia.

                      We found Cairns pretty easy to navigate around in general, and the hotel wasn't hard to find by hire car from the airport. The location of the hotel is excellent, it's right on the waterfront and only a few minutes walk from the town centre. Another bonus is that it's a really short walk to the docks from where the ships for the Great Barrier Reef cruises depart, so you can leave the car at the hotel if you're planning a trip out (which I would absolutely recommend!). The tourist office is just around the corner. We did have to pay to park at the hotel, but it wasn't too expensive and it was secure underground parking.

                      We were on our honeymoon, and so we were lucky enough to be upgraded. We were given a much more luxurious room than we are used to! It was a spa room, which meant that in the en-suite bedroom was a huge spa bath, with a glass wall into the main bedroom (there was a blind, and frosted screen by the toilet for privacy!). A good selection of complimentary toiletries meant that I made full use of this facility. The room also had the usual television and fridge and also a safety deposit box.

                      The hotel also has a swimming pool, which looked nice although we didn't have chance to use it. The main reception areas were welcoming, spotless, and the whole hotel was tastefully decorated.

                      The staff on reception were very helpful and were able to guide us when deciding which reef trip to choose.

                      Breakfast wasn't included in our package so we ate outside the hotel. There were a number of small cafes close by which served simple breakfasts for a reasonable price.

                      It was a lovely walk from the hotel along the Esplanade. When we first arrived we couldn't understand why no-one was on the beach, until we saw all the massive warning signs about crocodiles! Instead there is a large lagoon for swimming on the waterfront, a wonderful evening stroll. There is also a large choice of restaurants and shops really close by.

                      Although the price for this hotel was somewhat higher than other places that we stayed on our trip, we felt that it was worth the extra money to stay somewhere like this on a few occasions, as it really helps you to relax and enjoy yourselves on a long trip. Would fully recommend this hotel.

                      www.cairns.hilton.com

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                        17.12.2008 18:01
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                        There isn't much choice about where to stay, but you can't go wrong here

                        We stayed in Kings Canyon Resort in November 2007 as part of our trip around Australia. Kings Canyon is located several hours drive from Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Kings Canyon Resort is the only place to stay for many miles. The drive to it is pretty tough because of the heat. You can't possibly get lost though as there is only one road out there!

                        The high prices at the resort reflect the fact that you don't have any other choice. Because of this, we opted for the second cheapest option (the cheapest option being camping in your own tent). We stayed in a double room which was basically a concrete box in a long building. There was no private bathroom - communal toilets and showers were in a separate building. Towels and some toiletries were provided. The room also had a fridge which was useful. There were communal cooking facilities and a small shop and petrol station where you could buy food to cook and snacks.

                        As we were only there one night, we chose to eat in the restaurant which had a fair selection although being vegetarian we did struggle a bit.

                        Although obviously not the most luxurious of accommodation, this really didn't matter because it was the very setting which made it worth it. There were several short walks around the resort which were detailed on a sheet from reception. We didn't get very far though, because there were a few too many dingoes about for our liking! There is a special decked area for viewing the sunset over the canyon in the distance, and this view was spectacular. It was also amazing to come back slightly later on when it was totally dark and just stand on the boardwalks around the resort looking up to the stars, an incredible view with no light pollution.

                        The resort felt very safe and friendly, probably because it is a bit off the beaten track. We met some fellow travellers in the communal areas and it's always nice to chat with others about your travel experiences. We could easily have stayed longer.

                        The canyon itself is a short drive away, with plenty of parking and a couple of walks. You are somewhat restricted in your exploration because of the importance of the area to the Aboriginal people, but the main canyon walk was amazing and one of the highlights of our trip. You just need to start very early to avoid the hottest part of the day!

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