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On a recent visit to the theatre and a couple of birthdays within our group we decided to book a table for a meal prior to the show and decided that Bistro Jacques would be the place.
Bistro Jacques is a French restaurant which is situated on Hardman Street in Liverpool right in the heart of theatre land and some of our party had been there before and it came highly recommended. Arriving at the Bistro you may feel disappointed at the external appearance of the building, it looks like a couple of shops have been refurbished and knocked together to form the restaurant and has nothing fancy at all, in fact there are those metal shutters that pull down over shop windows for security once the restaurant is closed.
The main entrance looks more like a shop door but once inside you are greeted immediately, reservation checked and we where taken directly to our table as it was ready. The tables and chairs are all rustic wood style and does give the restaurant a nice cosy uniformed feel, the décor is welcoming with cream walls that are covered in lots of French prints and scripted writing on the walls also, not too much just one or two lines of writing around the pictures which really adds to the French Bistro feel. The floor is also wooden but not so polished that you would slip on shoes with no grip on them.
We had an early booking for our meal, 5 pm as we where off the theatre that evening, having such an early booking we could take advantage of the Theatre menu that is available at a set price of £10.95 per person. For this you get a three course meal with a good choice available for each course.
For our visit we had a good choice of starter, Soup of day, sweet potato & chilli was on offer and I opted for this and have to say I would re-order this anytime as it was extremely delicious, a lovely orange colour really thick and just the right amount of chilli, you knew there was chilli in it but it did not overpower the flavour of the sweet potato all topped off with soured cream. Pate, two of our party opted for this, and it looked great on the plate and I am going to say tasted great also as plates where cleared. The pate was a generous chunk and served with rustic bread and salad.
Salmon & Ginger fishcake was ordered by the last member of our group and this also did not disappoint, a generous fish cake, no skimping on size because it was being served as a starter and lots of salad. A Risotto dish was also available but as none of us ordered this so I am unable to comment, however as the other three dishes where so good I don't think anyone would be let down if they chose this.
For the main course there are more choices available on the menu than you have for the starters and you can also pick form the specials board, the specials are quote uniquely written on blackboards that are hung around the room at the top of the walls and I felt that this way of displaying information here completely felt right with the atmosphere of the place.
For the main course we had a choice of roast breast of Chicken with sage and onion stuffing in cream sauce, Fresh Cod, Duck, Steak either plain or with a sauce, though there is an additional £1.50 if sauce was required, a tagliatelle dish and the specials. Our group choose the Chicken, Duck and Cod between us. The portion size was extremely generous and presentation of the food delightful and all dishes come with a platter of seasonal vegetables, we had dauphinoise potatoes, carrots, green beans, cauliflower and beautifully caramelized red cabbage and onion with was really sweet and an excellent accompaniment to the other vegetables and meat. There was more than enough to go around the group to the point that there was just slightly too much and a few beans and carrots where left on the platter at the end. I have to say that the chicken was cooked to perfection, breast stuffed with a home made sage and onion stuffing with a subtle flavour, just enough that you had that extra flavour with the chicken but you could still savour the suculent chicken breast.
As with the specials for the main course the Deserts can be found written on a blackboard and we had a choice of Profiteroles a generous portion and declared delicious, Apple crumble & custard was not ordered by our table but we did see this being served to the next table and it just reminded me of what mum used to make when I was a child, big round dish, large portion with lashings of custard, Rum & Raisin cheesecake, Crème Bruelle and a cheese board, we where really spoiled for choice. Thankfully after are delightful start and main meal we were left to ponder of over what to opt for until we felt ready and this really sums up the whole of the service, swift and efficient when service was required but we where not rushed at all nor did we feel pressured to eat up and move on, service was always with a genuine smile as well and the waiting on staff appeared to be a relaxed and very well organized team.
There was a good choice of wines available on the wine list with prices starting around the £12.95 for a bottle, and yes its all served correctly as it should be with a taste being offered before glasses are poured to be sure that we like what we have chosen, for me this makes so much difference in how a view a restaurant of any type, personally I don't like it when a taste is not offered and wine is just poured.
All of these dishes and are also available from the non theatre menu but you will pay slightly more if dining later in the evening after the early doors theatre special has finished. For example the same chicken dish alone is £10.95 and there is no difference in portion size so if you are feeling the pressure a bit recently go for an early doors menu whether, most restaurants have them.
Highchairs are also avialable if you have small children and Bistro Jacques will always try to accomodate your needs for you little ones.
This is one place where when visiting the theatre is always on a list of places to choose from if we are dining prior to a show but as it is very popular booking is essential always.
Its not often that I get a real craving for something sweet but today is one of those days and I find myself reaching for the chocolate and picking up a crunchy.
The humble crunchy is made by Cadbury which was founded way back in 1824 when a gentleman called John Cadbury opened his 1st shop in Birmingham which was a grocers but also selling some chocolate products including cocoa and drinking chocolate. Following on from this John went in to manufacturing in the 1830's and the firm has gone from strength to strength and is still going strong today, so when in all of this great history of Cadbury did the crunchy appear, way back in 1929 which I find surprising as I would have though that this would have been one of the more 'modern' products meaning post 2nd world war for me.
So what is a crunchy? The crunchy is very simple in design but quite brilliant at the same time, the centre is honeycomb which is really dark and verging on chewy at the centre working outwards it is less dense and has a real crunch and is quite 'hard' for want of a better word, not hard in the sense that it is hard to bit but I suppose solid would be the best way to describe it. The entire honeycomb is covered in lovely Cadbury chocolate and I always find that the top of the bar has the thickest amount of chocolate as the honeycomb tends to did slightly towards the centre.
The outer wrapper is now the modern foil affair which is supposed to 'lock in the freshness' so you are not disappointed with your bar, however, I don't like these at all as they are totally not environmentally friendly and this applies for the majority of chocolate bars that are found on our shelves today.
Eating my crunchy I am never disappointed as the honeycomb melts in your mouth with a slight tingly sensation on the tongue if you let is sit there, you can feel the bubbles in the honeycomb melting or popping in your mouth and this is the best bit for me, the chocolate is just an added extra and not a necessary requirement. I know some people that like to nibble the chocolate off the sides of the honecomb bar first as the sides as smooth and the eat the rest but I have no patience for this at all and just tend to dive straight in there and bite of a chunk.
At around 50p per bar, not the cheapest around but I feel that the value is reasonable, the size does not appear to have decreased too much from when I was a child unlike some other bars so I don't feel cheated in some way by not getting what my memory recalls.
Overall nice for a treat but really not that good for you.
Now that the better weather is here I have noticed that I appear to be buying more fruit than throughout the winter months and would like to share a family favourite with you - the Kiwi.
The Kiwi fruit is originally from China and has really travelled a long way to reach our shelves, though in China they are known as the "macaque peach". The Kiwi was an unknown fruit to the Western world until the 20th century which is really quite surprising. The name Kiwi is also very recent as back in the 1960's this fruit was known as the "Chinese Gooseberries" according to my mother, I suppose you can see the where the name came from as rather similar with their hairy skins. The name Kiwi came into being from a fruit packaging firm from Auckland, originally the fruit was know as a "melonette" but the name was changed once the packaging firm learnt about steep tariffs for exporting melons and the name Kiwi was born.
The Kiwi fruit is most definitely one of the least attractive fruit to look at and really does nothing to sell itself at all with its external appearance and some may be put off by the hairy brown peel, sounds horrible but its only the skin and you don't eat this bit. Imagine passing through the fruit section of the supermarket or even in the grocers, beautiful red strawberries, a bunch of green grapes, mountains of plump blackberries and a ugly hairy brown fruit which is roughly the shape of a rugby ball but a bit more rounded at each end.
Those you do not judge by appearance and are brave enough to add this little hairy fruit to their baskets will not be disappointed with their purchase once they peel back the drab overcoat as the flesh inside is a beautiful green with a white pulp centre and very small back seeds that kind of make a star pattern if you happen to slice through the fruit.
Its is quite hard to describe the taste of a kiwi, the flesh has a texture similar to a strawberry but less firm overall and very easy to eat, the white pulp can sometimes be hard if the fruit itself is not quite ripe and not nice at all. When ripe the fruit is very juicy but not too sweet a taste kind of if you crossed a pineapple and a strawberry together with a much more delicate flesh.
Personally I like to peel my Kiwi and cut into pieces and either add to a fresh fruit salad or eat one its own, however, my daughter adopts what I like to refer to as the soft boiled egg approach and just chops off the top of the fruit and scoops out the flesh with a spoon.
A Kiwi fruit is mainly water in content and contains vitamin C, there are reportedly some health benefits to eating Kiwi fruit and studies have been done and proved that Kiwi can help in improving conditions of asthma in children and possibly helping to reduce the risk of colon cancer due to the fibre content.
This is an item that normally is found in my fruit bowl every week along with many other fruits and are always one of the 1st items to be eaten, as a treat you could have them one their own with a bit of cream - delicious.
Now that the warmer weather has arrived I felt it was time to write about one of the places that I have visited on so many occasions from a child through to an adult and somewhere that will never loose its attraction.
History of Wirral Country Park
During the time of the Victorians a busy railway linked Hooton to West Kirby on the Wirral 12 miles away, miles of the railway line ran near to the Dee Estuary. The Steam Trains that used the railway used to bring townspeople to various stops along the line such as Parkgate for a cheap day out and back to the cities and towns at the end of the day. However, in 1962 the line was closed the seaside resorts as was where silted up and the track lay derelict for many years. In 1973 backed by the Countryside Commision and a lot of work this old railway line was opened as Wirral Country Park.
Today the park contains a visitor centre at Thurstaston which is open all year round, the modern building is very different from what I recall as a child in the 70's visiting the park which was basically a small building and a couple of bird hides for the avid bird watcher and a small kiosk for refreshments. Today's building is larger and there is now snack bar, toilets, a larger bird hide, toilets and an exhibition area, you can also pick up information leaflets from here also. There is disabled access at the visitor centre and this is currently being improved to give access over the bridge by the pond. This is also the base for the park rangers who you will easily be able to spot in their green jackets.
Apart from the visitors centre there is plenty to see and do in around the park. There is all year round parking for 200 cars with a seasonal overflow car park available which has 600 spaces and in the height of summer sometimes even this is not enough to accommodate all the visitors.
The visitors centre is an ideal place to start for walkers as you can easily access the old railway line and walk along the route the trains would have taken. Along the way you can still easily see the old station platforms and there is plenty of opportunity for spotting all sorts of different types of wildlife along the way. How far you walk is entirely up to you and you can stop and turnaround at any point and return to the main park area itself. Cyclists also use the same path so always worth keeping an eye out to be sure that your way is clear though the path is plenty wide enough for all. It is worth mentioning that the entire railway track is known as the Wirral Way and in additional to the 12 mile foot/cycle path there is a 10 mile separate horse path for the keen rider.
I can go walking/ cycling and horse riding, what else is there?
Around the visitor centre there is beautiful park space and large grassed areas situated on top of the cliff overlooking the River Dee and the North Wales coastline. During nice weather this area is very popular with families out for a picnic, there is a picnic area available along with large barbeques available for public use but you will often find many people picnicking on the grass which is what we tend to do. Ball games are usually in full swing, anything for football to rounder's but take care where you play are there are some ponds around and you don't want to loose the ball in the water.
There is access to be beach with the main being a formally set of steps that wander through the trees form the main road down to the shore line and this is a very pleasant and easy way down. There is always a few that will try the steep sloped cliff face to get down and this I have ran down many a time as a child. The beach is not huge by any means but unless a really high tide is expected you can always get down onto the beach and walk along and take in the many different sites around the coast, the way the cliffs have been eroded do leave some interesting shapes and the odd house nestled in the cliff side, looks like a wonderful place to live but I can imagine that would be very bleak in the depths of winter.
It is worth remembering that Wirral Country Park is a conservation centre and such you should treat it with the care and respect it deserves, always take you rubbish away with you, don't damage the plants and don't disturb the wildlife, particularly the badger sets if you come across them.
The Rangers at Wirral Country Park have assistance from a group who are called the Friends of Wirral Country Park who help organise events, lead guided walks and help to raise funds to ensure that the park is maintained to the high standard that visitors have come to expect.
Some of the events organised are, Hare spotting in March, beach clearance, rambles with the Rangers, bird spotting for example, these are very popular and if you are planning to a visit you need to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
As a child I have completed the walks many times over both with my parents and on various sponsored walks, today I prefer to visit with friends and family either for a walk along the beach or a short walk along the old railway line, stopping for a nice cup of tea at the visitors centre. When my children where younger we would often spend a full day at the park, have a picnic or a BBQ playing ball games or even kite flying when there is enough wind. We have even stopped off on the way at one of the local farms where you can pick your own fruit which is a lovely way to spend some time together.
Exit the M53 at Jct. 3 and take Woodchurch Road (A552). Turn left onto (Arrowe) Park Road (A551) at mini roundabout turn right then first right into Thingwall Road East this will take you into Thingwall Road, at T junction turn right into Thurstaston Road, at cross roads go straight on into Church Lane at T junction turn right onto Station Road, Wirral Country Park is on the left before the bridge at the bottom of Station Road
Entrance is free
Beautybay.com is a place where you can apparently get 'the Cheryl Cole' look, now does that come with the fully body make over as the home page of the site tells me that I too could 'look like Cheryl'. Emergency liposuction and full body lift may be called for here for me to look anything remotely like Cheryl.
The homepage is very girly in colour and on initial glance you would maybe assume that this site is targeted at the female of the species but it is worth noting for the guys out there who like to look good that there is a men's section also with a nice easy link to take you straight there. No more trawling round the shops with you partner stopping at every beauty counter within site before you can get to the important manly stuff.
The home page gives you what is deemed the 'weekly picks' and has a broad selection that does give you an idea of what is available to buy online from here, everything from the totally essential tweezers that come in different colours for those who really must accessorise to Extreme mouth spray.p
Navigation around the site is easy as all you need to do is click on the relevant tab for the type of product you wish to look at, choosing from Hair, Skin Care, Make up, Fragrances, Accessories, Men's and Essential Beauty. The speed of the site is excellent and I have never been left hanging waiting for the screen to change even from my tatty old PC at home which is about to die. If you know exactly what you are looking from there is also a drop down pick list on the home page for you to pick by brand thus negating the need to browse through all to find your favourite. You can also search by product type with a search facility, eg moisturiser
Setting up an account is straight forward, all you need to do is click on the 'my account', (yes I know you don't have one yet) where you are given two options, either login in using existing details or register as a new customer, all items to be completed being the standard, name, address, email and password, no credit / debit card details are required up front.
It is also worth noting that you can look at the prices in different currencies, GBP, USD, EUR and Kroner (Sweden, Norway and Denmark).
Looking at an item in more details could not any more simple, just click on it and rather than just having a pop-up window you will see that you are taken to what is effectively the items own little page which gives further details including, stock availability, if an item is out of stock and indication is given as to when it is expected to be available again in days. There is a description for the item, information about the brand, reviews that have been posted for the product on the site, details of how long delivery is expected to be, eg 1st Class 1 to 3 working days and the delivery cost more about this in a bit and returns. On the right hand side there is also a small group of products that relate to what you are viewing that are suggestions as to what else you may be interested in buying. So if I am looking at tweezers the suggestions I have are two other types of tweezers an eyelash curler and toe nail scissors an element of control is required otherwise you could end up spending a fortune on items you did not initially intend to buy.
Once you have decided that you really want a particular item all you need to do is click the 'Add to Bag' button that is clearly visible in a grass green colour with white writing - note that this may cause some issues to those who suffer with colour blindness, depending on bad a case shades of grey may only be visible.
You can access your shopping bag from any part of the site as this forms part of the main header which is visible at all times along with the links to your account, Delivery info, Free Returns, Contact us and Help an Advice.
We have already covered the 'My Account' so moving onto Delivery info you are given clear and precise information as to how much your delivery will be. For a total spend of less than £60.00 the cheapest delivery price is £1.95 for 2nd class, however, these days I really don't see any difference between 1st and 2nd class post, at least not where I live as everything seems to take an age to arrive. The most expensive price for an up to £60 spend is for the guaranteed next day delivery which is currently £7.95 and this I would only consider is it was a last minute gift that was urgently required due to forgetting a birthday. For a spend over £60 1st and 2nd class post is free and the same price for the next day delivery. Underneath the pricing scale is a bit more detail and examples of how long a lead time is normally to be expected based on your choice of postage. There is also a bit at the bottom of the page for International postage, handy if you are buying as a present for somebody as will save you having to post on at additional cost.
I am not going to go through each section individually as this would take far too long, however, as I would dearly love to look like Cheryl I am going to hope to the Essential Beauty section and see what it has to offer - this section tells me that I can look like Angelina also; decisions, decisions. Thankfully this section does not advise me that I have no hope over ever looking like either but does offer full details of what products you would need in order to obtain 'the look' with the product names clearly highlighted in yellow, right down the type of hairbrush and the clip in extensions.
Drilling through further than I would normally on a beauty website I find that there is an Agony Aunt page where you can find advice for Acne, stretch marks with a letter and answer page type of layout, I assume that you can just use the 'Contact us' link to send in a letter
Once you have your delivery there may be times when an item you bought is not what you thought it was or damaged and needs to be returned and this is free of charge providing it is unopened or unused, the instructions on the site are clear and state that you must contact Beautybay prior to returning an item either by email or telephone otherwise your return may be delayed in being processed, in other words may take a bit longer to get your money back. Note that free returns only apply to the UK.
Overall this site is very nice to look at but I feel is a bit on the pricey side for some items, personally I would not pay £9 plus postable for tweezers but as with everything it is always worth shopping around. The layout is excellent and easy to follow and read about each items and navigation is easy but I still do like to browse on the highstreet and touch things before I buy them.
Sitting eating our evening meal yesterday which was salad based due to some nice weather I decided that I would write about one item that is always in my salad but has a love / hate relationship with most people - good old celery.
What a really boring thing to write about some may think but celery is actually an extremely versatile vegetable with many uses and is good for you also so lets have a look at my friend celery in a bit more detail.
Most people seem to associate eating celery as being on a diet as it is very low in calories only 6 calories for every 3 sticks you eat approx and apparently you consume more calories eating it than it contains. It is also very high in fibre and water content and eating a couple stick of celery does give you a 'full' feeling.
Celery has been around for about 3000 years and you may be interested to know that originally it was not considered as a food but as a medicine (some may agree that it tastes like a nasty medicine) in Asia used to treat high blood pressure. Celery is also apparently good for your blood pressure due to the high potassium content which can counteract the effects of too much salt in your diet, so does this mean if I cover my stick of celery in salt is has no effect on anything at all - hmm one to ponder over.
From an article in the timesonline I also noted that researchers have found that celery generates compounds that may fight mental health problems such as Alzheimers and other degenerative diseases. Apparently if this research is proven over time this will put celery into the super food category.
Enough about the health benefits, what can I do with a stick of celery?
Starting with the obvious chop a stick of celery and add it to a salad, fresh celery is extremely crunchy and can an interesting texture to a boring plate of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Personally I like to add peppers, radish and beetroot to a salad also not only because I like the taste but they also add colour and texture and feel that my salad is a lot more interesting this way.
You can of course just sit an munch on a couple of sticks of celery as a snack, a friend of mine likes to do this but does sprinkle with salt first. You could have a dip to accompany your celery but if you are on a diet take care here as shop bought dips are high in fat and calories - make your own using plain low fat yoghurt and add your own flavour- chilli flakes or garlic for eg. Spreading with cream cheese is delicious but again high fat and calorie value.
Is celery just a summer food? No it isn't celery is much more versatile that you may think and can be cooked as well as eaten raw. Some ideas for your celery are:-
Braised celery - chop into pieces and braise for 10 to 15 minutes and have as a side dish, the firmer outside stalks are best for this as they keep their shape.
Chop the stalks diagonally and add to a stir fry, again use the outside stalks for this as they will retain their crunch once cooked - max 6 minutes for stir frying, there is nothing worse than soggy vegetables in a stir fry.
Use in a soup or stew, my children will eat celery if they can't see it or don't know that a soup or stew contains celery so this is a good way to sneak in that extra vegetable for the fussy eater, of course the same applies to most other vegetables also.
Where can I find celery? Celery is normally available in most supermarkets or grocers store though the price will vary from store to store. To get the best shelf life from your celery you need to keep in your fridge and this way will keep fresh for 1 to 2 weeks.
Can I grow celery myself? Yes but you need to be patient as celery takes about 5 months to grow. Celery is grown from seed and you need to have a good fertile soil with plenty of manure, once seeds have germinated and your junior plants reach a height of 8cm you can then plant out. Seeds should be planted in March for the UK climate in order to get best growing results. When planting out remember that your celery does not like really hot sunny positions and will be tough an stringy as a result, soil needs to be kept moist. Caring for your celery plant is not as hard as caring for some others, you just really need to ensure that it is well watered and you keep it weed free. Once your plant is ready to be cut, you harvest by cutting near the bottom of the plant above the soil line so that all stalks stay as one unit, however, if you are not going to use the whole plant you can just remove the stalks that you need immediately, this way you have fresh celery every time.
Personally I love celery in salads or as a crunchy snack with some humous right throughout the summer months. In the winter I will use in soups sometimes but don't eat as much celery as I do in the summer.
Having looked in the cupboard and deciding that Old Mother Hubbard had a better stocked cupboard then I did last night it was time for last resort pizza for tea, OK the freezer was just as empty at the cupboard. Popping into my local shop I spotted that they had a new item in the freezer that they don't normally sell and decided to give it a try. 1 Chicago Town takeaway personal pizza, four cheese to go.
According to the packaging this pizza has "All the great taste of a takeaway pizza" but will it I wonder as I pop it into the oven for the recommended time, though some may be interested to know that no pre-heating is apparently required prior to cooking.
Twenty minutes later off to the oven to see whether the pizza is cooked and does it really look like the picture on the box? I could actually smell the pizza aroma starting to waft through the house and as expected was pleasant smell and did not put me off at all. Now for the big test - look, opening the oven I can see that crust has risen to twice the height of the base as promised on the back of the packaging and the picture, looking good so far, the cheese has melted evenly and no big gaps exposing the tomato base can be seen and the crust also has a nice golden colour, time to remove from the oven.
The packaging advises that you leave the pizza to stand prior to cutting and this I would recommend not just with this brand but with others also as if you cut a pizza straight away you often end up with the cheese topping sliding off the tomato base.
Pizza ready to be served, I actually share mine with somebody else with some salad which did reduce the impact of all that saturated fat and the high calorie value - a whopping 739 per pizza and note that the personal pizza is only appox 7 inches in diameter so not a large one.
The taste test - did this live up to the description - well in a word no. I found the base to be very bland and tasteless though the texture was OK, however, for me the crust was disappointing, I prefer my crust a bit crispy and this was certainly not, if fact if it was a lettuce I would describe it as limp. There was plenty of cheese in the topping and not too strong a flavour but the whole pizza was completely overpowered by the tomato sauce used. There was far too much sauce which made the overall effect very wet and the flavour was extremely strong and does left and aftertaste in your mouth. My daughter actually scraped off the topping completely and just ate some of the crust due to the overpowering tomato flavour.
The Chicago Town takaway pizza personal also comes with pepperoni topping or the four cheese and pepperoni versions with a tomato stuffed crust,
Overall this is not a pizza I would buy again even when there is nothing left in the cupboard or freezer. Personally I prefer to make my own pizza as its not hard to do at all and this way I am in control of the flavour and what is added and making the dough can be very therapeutic.
For those who like their pizza this is one to avoid
Being married to a self confessed chocoholic it is quite normal for various bars of chocolate and biscuits to be found in the basket at the end of the weekly shop but as we have switched to Aldi hubby was missing his Cadbury or Galaxy fix as this is not sold here.
Having a look through the shelves in Aldi we have been trying the range of chocolate on offer here and have stumbled on a little gem that is an ideal substitute for the bars of Cadburys that where costing a small fortune.
What initially caught my eye to this was the fact that you can see what the bar of chocolate looks through the wrapping so I at least had an idea of what to expect. Checking out the look of the bar through the window in the outer box I could see that my milk chocolate hazelnut bar did indeed look packed with hazelnuts which was a surprise and this was nice to see, off it went off the shelf and into my trolley for me to try later.
Opening the outer wrapper you can see that the inside is a cellophane wrapper keeping the chocolate fresh, this is extremely easy to open as it is not sealed at the ends but folder instead. I can now see that the bar is actually placed in the outer box upside down so that you can see the hazelnuts and turning it over it is divided into 20 squares (think it was 20 as have eaten a few already whilst writing this). My initial impressions where correct in the shop and the bar is indeed packed with hazelnuts.
Breaking off a small piece (OK not so small) and biting into the bar I can tell that its not either of the two top named brands but the taste is actually quite nice and definitely not put off at all. The hazelnuts are extremely fresh and crunchy and to say that you get one in every chunk would be an understatement as often you can find two or three per chunk.
According to the packaging this product is gluten free and suitable to vegetarians and contains a whopping 20.2g of fat per half bar which if you eat the whole bar equates to 58% of your recommended daily allowance - salad for the rest of the day is required I think though this does not stop Mr H as he has chomped his way through an entire bar without batting eyelid so thumbs up from him then.
Would I buy this again, yes, personally I don't eat an lot of chocolate but himself does and sure would actually replace all meals with chocolate if he could. Mr H enjoys this and think is a convert from the big two and at only 59p per bar there is a saving to be had by almost 50p for a similar size bar. The outer wrapper being made from cardboard also has the benefit of being able to be popped into the recycle bin unlike the foil wrappers that are often found on chocolate bars.
There are other bars in the range and Mr H is on a mission to try them all so can imagine there will be lots of tasting sessions over the coming weeks.
Does this really live up to its name and is it really a bit of heaven - not quite, there are better quality chocolates out there but a at a premium price, but you do get a lot of hazelnuts for your money here.
Caerleon is probably one of the lesser known but hugely important Roman site in Wales. For me I had never even heard of Caerleon until we went away with friends for a short break nearby but was more familiar with Chester, London and Hadrian's wall.
Now whilst on our short break we had a map of the surrounding area out and where looking for somewhere to go for a day out and spotted that there where Roman remains at a place called Caerleon. Now we where actually staying in the Wye Valley and yes was a bit of a trek over to Caerleon
Caerleon is in South Wales with the nearest town located to the west being Newport. Caerleon is located between junction 24 and 25 of the M4 and is situated right next to the River Usk, however, for our trip we chose a scenic route rather than the motorway, I was not driving on this occasion so did not pay that much attention to the route but most certainly was not via any main road.
Even though Caerleon was significant during the Roman period its history does not start there and prior to the arrival of the Romans there was a Fort just to the north west of the village for about 300 years and there are some stories that this fort was the stronghold of Beli, King of Britain at the time.
When the Romans arrived in Caerleon it was occupied by a fierce tribe called the Silures and many battles where fought in the area with the Romans which contributed to the large number of Roman fortresses in the area, in fact, there where more Roman fortresses here than in any other part of Britain. Now it is not clear who actually won, the Silures or the Romans but they both occupied the area over the next 400 years. After the Roman departure the old hill forts where re-occupied and it is said locally that King Arthur lead battle against the Saxon take-over from here and that Caerleon was the site of Camelot.
The Roman buildings where abandoned and left to decay and had long been forgotten about until earlier this century when the village started to expand and Roman stone was excavated or you could say recycled from the surrounding area. You can see when walking around the village the amount of Roman stone used. Also at this time there started an on-going race between villagers and developers as to who could buy the land first, the villages wanted to preserve what was there before the developers could destroy it all by building over it.
During the period of Roman occupation the town was actually called ISCA, the name comes from the River Usk and means roughly next to the Usk.
On our approach to Caerleon we where quite excited as the town, according to our map stated that there where remains of an Amphitheatre, a Roman Fortress and there was also a Museum there.
We approached using the B4236 and from this direction you have to cross the River Usk to get to the centre of the town. Parking was relatively easy as there is a car park off the main road through the village which is actually outside one of the museum sites in Caerleon, to one we picked was for a museum which was purely dedicated to the old Roman bathhouse that used to be there, more about this later.
We went to the entrance to the bath house and discovered that we could just wander around the village as we pleased but we chose to buy a guide which included as map to the village and all the historical information you could ever need. We did not enter the bath house at this point but decided to make the most of the fact that it was not raining and headed off map in hand to what we have decided would be our 1st point of call, the Amphitheatre.
As with most historical sites there quite often is not a lot to see, but Caerleon boasts the fact that is one of the very few site where this is much to be seen and I must say that we where pleasantly surprised. Walking through the village, you can't really get lost here as everything leads off the main road, and a turn to the left we found ourselves walking down a road which was where the 'attractions' where. To our left we could see the Roman wall that used to surround the area and on the right was a signpost to the Roman Fortress and we had passed the museum on the corner of the junction where we turned left. Continuing on past the Roman Fortress we came to the entrance to what I would describe as a field which contained the Amphitheatre and boy where we surprised. This was not just a field with a few foundations remaining at ground level at all and in front of us we could see what must have been virtually the full stone base of the amphitheatre rising up to 8 to 10 feet from the ground. The base structure is split into sections and you can imagine that the gaps between these structures or segments of foundation would have been the entrance for the spectators or the Roman soldiers. We proceeded through one of these gaps.
Only once you are inside the remains of the structure can you get a true impression of what this must have looked like when it was built and in use back in Roman times and I can say that I was extremely impressed with what was left. You can climb up onto the top of the foundations via the remaining steps in places, though you can climb onto of most of them without any steps, where there are steps these are the original steps and not additions just for the tourists to use.
Standing in the middle of what was obviously the arena you can see on either side of you facing each other to indented areas within the foundations and these, of course, required further investigation. Armed with our historical guide in hand off we headed, adults only I must stress as by this point the 4 children we had with use where off playing 'gladiators' in the middle of the area and taking it in turns to be gladiators and then lions, imagination was running wild at this point. The alcoves we discovered where on one side where there would have been a statue to offer tribute to and the other side of the arena where the 2nd indent was would have been where the leaders of the garrison based here would have sat along with any guests they had.
To give you an impression of the size of the amphitheatre we where told that this arena would have seated around 6000 people when full.
The first excavations on the amphitheatre where carried out in 1909 but this was really the locals digging trenches into the structure to quarry stone for building purposes, however, in 1926 the thanks to outside sponsorship the whole structure was excavated and today we see their amazing find.
Finally after many games of gladiators and a complete tour of the amphitheatre including clambering up onto the remains to see what the view would have been like for a spectator, we dragged ourselves away to move on to the remains of the Roman fortress which we had passed earlier, this was only 5 minutes walk away and there is not a huge amount of walking involved to get around the whole village.
The Roman Fortress
Now according to the guide book and the locals Caerleon boasts the only Roman Barrarks on public display in Europe and we where eager to get a look at what all the fuss was about. Approaching the Barracks from the site of the Amphitheatre you are greeted by a huge embankment which is what was left of the original defences of the fortress. Prior to climbing the embankment the ground dips by a couple of feet to what could only be described as a trench, not only does it look fantastic but also you can easily see what types of defences where used to defend this important fortress.
Once we reached the top of the embankment there is then a short downward slope to get to the actual site of the barracks. I am sure there must be a better way of getting to the fortress but we did not stop to look given our enthusiasm and anticipation, we where greeted by a complete view of the remains of the barracks. Now normally after watching many episodes of time team and the excavations of numerous roman sites by them I expected to see a lot of holes in the ground and maybe a few bricks or stones, how wrong was I. The remains of the barracks are complete up to, in places, 2 bricks high with complete foundations to the point where you can easily identify doorways and dividing walls between the rooms.
Now in our guidebook there was a really useful map of how this was laid out and what each building was for and we diligently followed the map. First stop was what used to be the kitchens. Here you can still see scorch marks in some places in what where the ovens that the food for the legion based here was cooked in and they where huge.
Next stop where the toilets - no there is not really much to see here, no holes in the ground but just the brick remains of the buildings.
Off to the remains of the barracks now. The remains of the barracks are laid out in blocks and I suppose I could describe them in a modern day equivalent would be row upon row of terraced houses with no gardens etc. Each block housed a century of men - a Roman century consisted of 80 men and just so you know the scale of these remains there where at its height 5500 men garrisoned here. There rooms vary in size but the larger rooms housed the centurions, privilege with rank here with the smaller rooms - no more than I would say 6' x 6' housed eight legionnaire men who used to work a shift system for sleeping and their duties.
The National Roman Legion Museum
We have walked past here earlier in the day and after the amphitheatre and then the barracks we where ready to go indoors for a bit.
The museum is located in the heart of the town and entry is free the same as most other National museums these days. What makes this museum special, well the only artefacts on display in the museum have all been found either in the village or in the surrounding area and they are stunning, armour, jewellery and pots to name but a few.
What does the museum offer for children, well here you will be pleasantly surprised, there is plenty for children to do at the weekends or school holidays and the activites range from mosaic making - we opted for this, to actually dressing up as a Roman Legionnaire complete with armour. The mosaic making was organised into sessions so there was no confusion and the children where shown how to plan their design and also to remember to make there design as if viewing it in a mirror as they would then be mounted, with the use of tile adhesive, onto a plain kitchen tile. My son decided that he would have LFC on his as he is a big Liverpool fan and my daughter though she would be more original and created her own design of what she imagined part of a Roman mosaic floor would look like. There where plenty of ready square pieces of tile in a great variety of colours and no one was disappointed by not being able to find what they needed. The tiles where mounted and then grouted and left to set for later collection in the day at your convenience.
The Bath House
Again this is fully enclosed as a museum totally dedicated to the bath house and this is also located in the centre of the town next to a pub.
I was expecting again to see a hole in the ground, a few tiles and the rough shape of a public Roman Bath house and again was stunned at what greeted my eyes. The bath itself is virtually intact complete with the steps down into the bath, the majority of the hyper course which is how the Romans heated their water and a huge portion of the mosaic floor mounted onto the wall, the mosaic had formed part of the floor of the bath house.
To walk around the bath you are on an elevated walkway with no blocked view at any point and to say that the whole thing is spectacular would be and understatement.
This is most certainly worth a visit if you in the local area as it is a very enjoyable and extremely informative day out with the only entrance price to pay being for the Bath House. There are quite a few pubs and inns in the village where food is served but as we took our own picnic I cannot comment on what they are like but the all looked extremely inviting. Also there are parts of the Roman wall that you can walk on top of but we ran out of time and the light was fading so we gave this a miss. All the remains in the village are of amazing quality and I was surprised at the amount there was to see. I live not too far from Chester and although the walls at Chester are impressive there really is not that much else that is as well preserved as the ruins at Caerleon.
I came upon this dish via a freind of the family who regularly makes this for her family and her kids love it.
What is it I hear you cry, well it is chicken pasta with pesto and pine nuts and is extremely easy to make.
What you need.
Pasta - I find that tagliatelli works best in this dish.
Diced chicken breast
Jar of green pesto sauce (red pesto works also)
Pinch of Salt
Quantites for all the above do not exist as I never measure or weigh anything, just throw it in the pan and see how it all turns out.
Pan to cook the pasta in - size is dependant on how many people you are cooking for or the size of their appetite.
Frying pan or wok - to cook the chicken in.
Wooden spoon (metal one will do if you do not have a wooden one)
If you have bought chicken breasts then you will need to start by dicing these, if you have ready diced chicken peices then proceed to the next step.
Heat the frying pan or wok on the stove with a a small amount of olive oil (if you do not have olive oil then any substitute will do). Add the diced chicken pieces into the pan to cook whilst you are preparing the rest of the dish. You will need to ensure that the chicken is cooked al the way through for health reasons, you don't want to end up being sick all night.
Ensure you wash your hands before you touch any other item of food and the chopping board if used to cut up raw chicken.
Fill pan for the pasta up to approx two thirds of the way and place on the stove to bring to the boil. Adding a pinch of salt helps the water boil faster. Add the amount of pasta you require and let it cook for approx 10 mins.
Stir the chicken in the pan to ensure even cooking.
Prepare the jar of pesto - this is easy - just open the lid.
Any have your pine nuts ready.
When the chicken is cooked drain off any excess juices and oil as you do not want the dish to appear greasy. Place the chicken back in the pan.
Once the pasta is cooked drain the water off and add to the pan of chicken. Add the pesto - you want to add just enough to have a thin coating on the pasta and the chicken so I add a bit at a time. Mix the ingredients together until they have been coated with the pesto. Add pine nuts to taste and servce immediately.
This dish looks good in a large serving dish with some pine nuts sprinkled on the top just before serving and placed in the center of a table for everyone to help themselves.
Warning be careful with the amount of pesto you use as too much can make this dish look unappealing.
This is really easy to make and actually only takes me about 20 mins for start to serving, great if you are rushing in form work with the family shouting when is tea ready before you have even got your coat off (happens everyday in my house).
This year for our holiday there was a big decision to make as to where we all wanted to go. Normally we tend to book about a year in advance but decided about this time last year that we would take a chance see what happens and try to pick up a last minute bargain. Six weeks before anticipated date of departure (leave pre-booked from work earlier in the year) no decision had been made as normally we would opt for mainland Spain but were slightly put off by the sharp downturn in the value of the Euro to the pound and with two teenagers who don't come cheap we envisaged a large spend here.
After much deliberating and a family discussion as to what type of holiday everyone wanted surprisingly a caravan holiday came out on top so off to trawl the internet I stumbled on a reduced rate holiday with Haven at Lakeland saving just under GBP200.00 on the brochure price. The booking process was extremely straight forward and confirmation quickly arrived in my in box closely followed by itinerary with how to get there. We opted for a 3 bedroom standard plus caravan for 7 days.
Arriving at the camp there is a very small car park for you to use until it is you designated check in time and this check in time is strictly adhered to and I would suggest that you leave 1 member of your party in the queue from about 30 minutes before check in otherwise you will be in a long line of people. The queue is long but the process is very quick and you are checked and handed your keys with map of where to find your caravan (or the camping field if in tent or tourer) so this does move along very quickly.
The camp itself is nicely laid out with lots of planting between groups of caravans and the planted areas are fenced off with chicken wire to stop you traipsing through all the caravans or even cutting through in the car and as the plants grow I can imagine you won't be able to see the chicken wire at all. The caravans are well spaced with ample space for parking between unlike some other sites we have been to where there are caravans that are literally on the car park itself with nowhere for sitting out.
Why did we choose Lakeland - after much browsing around different holiday camps and indeed even different companies that offer the same type of holiday we all thought that Lakeland had more to offer that suited our needs and interests that other sites and these include:-
A nine hole golf course - no need to bring your own you can hire clubs at the camp to use for the whole family and if you fancy an 18 hole you can go round twice. The golf course is set at the back of the camp and well away from the main site for caravans though there are a handful of caravans near by and are know as the 'golf village' on the camp map. I can't comment on how hard the course is not being a golfer myself but looked to be mid range by my standards and speaking to others on the course so just about manageable for the inexperienced amongst us - that would be me then. There is a small clubhouse at the golf course also where you can get some refreshments after your game in case you just can't quite make it back to your accommodation.
Indoor and Outdoor swimming pools - whilst neither of these is Olympic sized they are adequate for the camp and both where very clean and well maintained. The indoor pool has changing rooms and lockers (20p required which is returned) ideal if you want to get changed at the poolside. The outdoor pool has a small children's area for the very small and sun loungers are available for use during the nice weather with some tables and chairs but they are not abundant and you would need to be quick to get a lounger on a very nice day, however, there is ample space for you to sit around the pool on one of the chairs or the floor if you have something to stop your bum going numb. Both my children are very keen swimmers and used both pools during our stay though the outdoor pool does feel very cold even though it is heated, but then again a pool aboard always feels cold when you 1st get in.
Day time activities - for our two teenagers it is always a must that there is something more than an amusement arcade for them just to hang around in and most importantly for mum and dad not to have to listen to the complaints of 'I'm board' and 'there's nothing to do' so the list of activities was attractive. Activities included:-
Archery - age restrictions do apply so if you are interested check before you book whether there are different sessions for different age groups.
Fencing - again age restrictions apply - check directly with the park .
Aqua jets - very popular and as my two spend so long getting out of bed each day the sessions where always full by the time they went to book a place or only 1 place left which was no good.
There are also tennis courts on site again as with the golf you don't need to carry all your sports equipment you can hire rackets for a game of tennis.
Basketball courts and football pitch - not sure whether you can hire the balls as we normally take a ball or two for these and we never found that the pitch was in use or the basketball nets either, only a few others around - this may be different as the summer moves but cannot say.
As you can see from above there was lots to keep to grumpy teenagers entertained when on the camp but what else was there?
Evening entertainment is what lets this site down and we found that this was very poor and not run to timetable and in my opinion the whole programme badly planned. We arrived on a Saturday and I can say that there was a very good band on who where excellent and extremely good who played two sets in the evening, however, the 2nd set was given over to karaoke with volunteers from the audience and this let the evening down completely. There was far too much focus on the under tens in my opinion with 'party dances' after 11pm when there entertainment should move up to a more suitable age group after this time. Also for the entertainment three nights a week the staff provide it all which is way too much for a person that goes back to the days of the live residential band plus the cabaret every night, not that I am against the staff show but once a week is sufficient.
The club has an ample sized bar but the service was very slow on the few nights we went in there and they did seem to be short of staff as there were only two bar staff on at during our stay which was just before the main 6 week holiday period for most schools, but already into the Scottish school summer hols and I can imagine that the following weeks would have been busier and the queues at the bar very long. There was also the usual kids bar selling sweets, ice cream and slush drinks and a toy story in the club in order to persuade you to part with even more of your money, thankfully my two are way too old for this now and have their own money to spend on holiday and know they have to make it last.
The bar at Lakeland serves food and well as drinks and have a couple of large screen TVs which are on most of the day. The menu was typically what you would expect in a pub with a children's menu also available, we did not have a full meal in here but on our last day my daughter had the brownies and flapjacks with chocolate dipping sauce and I have to say these were excellent value and very tasty. All tables have a number so as long as you have your table number simply order your food at the bar and once ready it is served to you at your table. Table cleaning was not a quick as I would have liked but it did get done eventually, personally I don't like trying to find a table to sit at that is not covered in somebody else's dirty plates.
We only had one hiccup with our accommodation during our stay, we returned one evening to find that the sink taps had come away from the pipe and we had a small flood in the kitchen area of the caravan. Quick call to security and they arrived within 5 minutes of our call and fixed the leak. The number is in the pack you receive when you arrive and I have to say that the service was very efficient. however, we where advised that somebody would be around the next day to fix the taps properly as they where loose and this caused the problem in the 1st place but nobody ever turned up. This was not a problem as was our last day anyway but would like to think that they fixed this before the same happened to somebody else.
Would I go there again? Yes I would, the site itself is extremely nice and ideally situated as a base for the Lake District with its beautiful surroundings and if you are prepared to take a chance and book last minute there are usually some bargains to be had. This year we paid £424 for 1 week in a standard plus 3 bedroom caravan which was a saving of £185 from the brochure price by booking on line and leaving it until 6 weeks before departure to book.
If you are looking for somewhere to stay in the centre of Rotterdam then this is not one of the places I would recommend.
Rotterdam is located approx 1 hr by train away from Skipol Airport with a 10 minute taxi ride from Rotterdam station to the hotel.
Novotel have more than one hotel in Rotterdam, this on is situated in the midlle of a business park (Brainpark) which is next to a motorway and you really are quite isolated from the main town centre, well its not within walking distance anyway and most certainly you would have a taxi fare involved if out and about for the evening.
The hotel itself is modern and the 1st impression we had upon arrival was of welcome and comfort.
The main receiption area in the hotel is just to the left of the entrance but you cannot miss it. It is located between the elevators to which are available to take you to the correct end of your floor rather than having to walk the full length of the hotel to get to your room.
The standard room was larger than expected with completely seperate seating area containing a 2 seater sofa and a chair, giving a clearly defined space away from the bed in the room, effectively giving you a living area in the room.
The bathroom was of expected standard size for a hotel room but there was plenty of room and it did not feel cramped and had the standard extras of soap and body wash that you will find in most hotels.
There was an excellent choice of TV chanels with quite a few English channels, which makes a change from other hotels I have stayed in and was nice to be able to watch something other than the news chanels in English.
The hotel restaurant has an excellent choice of food and wine and the standard with higher than expected. The service was excellent also. We chose a pasta dish which, when arrived was very generous in size and struggled to eat it all. The service in the restaurant was average nothing bad but nothing outstanding either.
THe hotel also has a bar where you can not only get a drink you can order from the snack menu if you do not want a large meal, for example you can order a sandwich or chicken satay along with your drinks. The bar area aslo has a large screen TV which can be seen no matter where you sit in the bar.
The standard of breakfast was excellent serving both continental and Englsh, however, you did not have to order English separately as with a lot of other hotels it is available for you to just help yoursefl - highly recommended as good standard of food, even the bacon was edible, I'm fussy with bacon and generally if travelling around Europe tend to give it a miss as more fat then meat but a least during our stay this was not the case, lovely with the scrambled eggs.
Overall the hotel was clean and noted that conference facilites where also available along with disabled and family rooms. If you are staying as a family this hotel does not have any failities such a swimming pool or fitness center and you would have to go outside the hotel for this.
Having to travel from time to time for work I recently found myself having to spend the best part of a week in Glasgow and in need of somewhere to lay my weary head at the end of the day and Marks hit the spot in terms of distance from the office and located right in the middle of the city centre with shops and bars a few minutes walk away.
Now I am not particularly fussy on where I stay and to be honest really dont have a huge say in the matter as we tend to opt for a combination of convenience and price that falls within the allowed budget so the question was would Marks hit the Mark,
Marks describes itself as a 'luxury 4 star hotel but is it really?
Arriving at the hotel at the end of our 1st day in Glasgow, having got off the train and straight to the office my colleague and I where tired and weary. The hotel itself is easy to spot as it has the most unusual frontage of glass that tilts outwards into the street from each of the floors. Another thing that was unusually was the disabled lift which led directly from the street into the hotel; this is situated here as the main access to entrance is up a few steps with no room for a ramp.
The reception was not what I was expecting at all, all very dark brown on the walls and floor with a couple of orange chairs around a small table and lots of champagne bottles placed in arrangements of different sizes. There where a couple of staff on duty and ready to greet you and book you in, we had one small issue here as we had booked via an internet site using one name for 2 rooms only to find that the information passed on was incorrect at some point and only 1 room had been reserved. This was quickly resolved as we had a copy of our booking confirmation with us clearly stating 2 rooms.
Heading off to our rooms, I was on the 7th floor with my colleague on a different floor we headed off towards the lifts, there are two lifts operating in the hotel and throughout our stay found that this was sufficient and never where we greeting with a full load, even though I would say you would not get more than 6 people in them without being a bit cramped.
Arriving at our floors the first thing you will notice is the décor, the wallpaper is a grey/silver and burgundy leafy swirly pattern and is very in your face, not something I could live with at home for sure, with a more or less plain burgundy carpeting throughout. The décor looks fairly new as the carpet still had a spring in it under foot and as the 4th and the 7th floors where no different I am assuming that all floors match this theme.
Room keys are the standard key card and are given to you in a small disposable paper holder which does container a map of the local area on the back so dont discard straight away as this is a useful size to slip into your pocket or purse when you want to venture out, though as Glasgow has a very linier layout streetwise it is fairly easy to navigate.
For once no issue for me with the room key, normally I get the dodgy one where you have to wiggle a few times for the door to unlock and make that little green light appear, but not once did this happen. Entering the room, our rooms where standard rooms, you have a small hall with the bathroom door directly opposite you, turning into the room you have one single and one double bed and can confirm that all the standard rooms have the same layout.
In your room you will find a 'open wardrobe, in other words a built in unit with no doors where there is plenty of space and sufficient hangers for your clothes, you also have a shelf near the bottom and space to store your shoes or even a small travel case. You will also find an ironing board and an iron ready for you to use if need be. The TV is flat screen and the hotel does have Freeview so plenty of channels to choose from. There is the standard complimentary tea and coffee making facilities which at 1st glance I could not see, however, once I sat down on the bed I noticed that one of the draws in the desk had a little brass plaque on it saying tea and coffee. Opening the draw there it was already and waiting, the same continued for the hairdryer that also lived in its own little draw.
The furniture was of a good solid quality and did not look worn and every piece matched which gave the room a nice feel, the décor was again plum / dark red carpets with all but one wall painted in white with the remainder having very bold wallpaper again which matched the bedding and the carpet.
The bathroom was of a good size, full size bath, power shower and yes it did live up to expectations with the expected token toiletries ready for you in case of need and a couple of glasses, real ones not plastic ones. Towels where plenty and the room was set to expect 3 guests with bath and hand towel for each person, more than enough just for me. Extra pillows where also available if you needed them from the top shelf in the wardrobe but why you ever would I dont know as the beds had two pillows per person and throw cushions.
Disappointingly there was no air conditioning in the rooms and you have to rely opening the window to cool the room.
The hotel has its own bar and restaurant with the bar being located at the front of the hotel and again follows the brown colour theme with dark stained wooden floors. Seating is ample and the service was good. The restaurant is located behind the bar and with access between the lifts and reception and offers a varied menu which should suit most tastes. We have one meal in here on our last night and I have to say that the standard of food was exceptional with prompt and efficient service throughout and no feeling of being rushed.
The restaurant also doubles up as the breakfast room where you have a choice of continental (GBP 7.50) or full cooked breakfast also with many other hot items, all GBP 12.50, with the continental buffet laid out in the bar area but away from the windows. We settled for continental and had a good choice, various pastries, ham, cheese, cereal, fresh fruit, yoghurt and fruit juice.
Room service is also available and chose this once also as we had the intention of carrying on working in one of our rooms to save some time the next day. Slight hiccup here as we dialled the number for room service which takes you to the main reception, who then advised that we needed to speak to the restaurant, transferred to the restaurant who advised us to call reception; explained that we had just done this so they just took our order anyway. I ordered the char grilled chicken burger with chunky chips and my colleague opted for the beef burger and where advised that this would be delivered in about 20 minutes. Sure enough 20 minutes later our meals arrived both piping hot. Now I have to say that this was the largest chicken burger I have ever seen in my life, a toasted oblong shaped bun with what must have been at least a whole breasts worth of chicken stuffed into it and the largest chips I have ever seen and they tasted divine. The chips are definitely not the frozen variety and come still with their skins all crisp on the outside and nice and soft in the middle. The beef burger did not disappoint either with ample cheese melted on top of the burger. Generous portions and neither of us could finish. Note there is a GBP3.00 for room service.
Rooms where cleaned every day but noticed that there is no mention of 'green service where you can request for the towels or sheets not to be changed everyday. Hallways throughout appeared clean at all times during the day also and the carpet did look freshly hovered every night when we returned.
Marks also offers free Wi-Fi in all its rooms and public areas of the hotel with a troubleshooting guide available in your room should you run into difficulties connecting to the internet. It is worth also nothing that only the suites have a mini bar and there are no gym facilities here either.
On the whole did Marks hit the mark, yes it did, very nice hotel, good size rooms and good service but to say its a four star is pushing it a bit, a high quality 3 for me.
One final let down was when checking out, due to the hiccup on checking in the amount paid in deposit had not been correctly deducted and we where nearly overcharged but upon pointing out this error if was resolved quickly and efficiently.
Would I return, yes for work definitely as the location is perfect and ideal for the city centre if you feel the urge to do some shopping.
Review also appears on Ciao and Trivago.
Now that the olympics are over for another 4 years it seems the perfect time to reflect on the events that start on 08.08.08 in the Chinese city of Beijing.
You cannot fail to have noticed that even before the start of the Olympics there where constant reports about air pollution and how it may affect the athletes and many views over the city looking like smog bound London. In addition to this all was not well in Quindao etiher there where lots of boats out in the sea removing massive amounts of weed in order that the sailing could take place incident free, things where not looking good for China.
The opening ceremony was spectacular and really everything we had been hoping for and expect from the Chinese, stunning costumes and fireworks abound but sadly once again more troubles when it emerged that some of the fireworks we had watched at home where computer generated and even pre-recorded and the young child singing was a replacement for the girl who sang the song, all about the look, but lets face it in reality and todays society I hold no doubts that most countries would pull this same trick so that the look was right. Personally I don't feel cheated out of anything from these actions but I may very well have felt differently had I actually been in Beijing and wondering afterwards whether I had walked around with my eyes closed.
Saturday 9th August events are underway and after dragging myself out of bed and heading to the sofa I made myself comfortable, drinks, snacks and controller in hand and off we go. OK I admit it I love the Olympics and having the ability to choose what to watch via the red button is even better as I can now focus on the sports I have more interest in and you do get the opportunity to watch some of the less popular events.
I'm not going to go throught every day with a blow by blow account but look back on some of my favourite moments.
Swimming - very popular in my house as my daughter is a swimmer and has a small obsession with Michael Phelps and was keen to monitor his quest to win an impressive eight gold medals during the games and become the greatest Olympian ever, but could he achieve this?. Phelps was off to a good start with his 1st final wining easily but there was a question of the relay races where he was heavily reliant on 3 other memebers of the team to help him and for final 2 it looked like Phelps was going to fail before he really got going with the US team have to have a fantastic last leg to just touch first. Phelps went on winning everytime but with race 7 approaching as a sprint race which are notoriously close again we held our breath; Phelps won on the final stroke of the race by 1 100th of a second which really comes down to how hard you hit the timing board at the end, it was that close and he went on to achieve his dream of eight golds breaking 7 world records and one Olympic record along the way.
Far from Phelps the British girls where having a great time in the pool with more medals than expected with Rebecca Addlington being the star here with a surprise gold in the 400m freestyle piping the favourite to the post followed by a world record for the 800m freestyles and as far as I am concerned this world record realy counts as it has stood for 19 years. Lets not foget the two silvers and bronze for the 10K open water swim what an achievement and I think you have to be slightly mad to do this event in the 1st place.
Diving - I have always enjoyed the diving and I am always impressed with the 10m board, how do they even jump of something that high never mind dive? I have jumped of a 3 meter board and I can tell you its a long way down, much further than you think from standing on the side of a pool. Tom Daley being the focus of the British media in the build up to the games due to his young age - imagine age 14 and being able to compete at the Olympics but did we as a nation put too much pressure on him to get a medal in the syncro as the result was not really what Tom and his partner where looking for.
Personally I think that it was an achievement in itself to get to the syncro final as this is a straight final with only eight pairs competing in Beijing. Tom fared much better in his individual event reaching the final and coming an impressive 7th, OK its not a gold medal but lets take nothing away from Tom, he didn't even expect to reach the final.
Gymnastics is another of the events I really enjoy and to see a British team here shows that we have made progress in this sport as it was not that long ago that we did not have enough good gymnastis to make up a girls team and what few we did have had to go on the mixed team for the qualification round. Here again there was some controversy over the marking with even some of the gymnasts themselves frowning and giving questioning looks at some of the marks particularly with the Chinese competitors and following this allegations over the age of some of the Chinese girls as you have to be aged 16 to compete here in this sport. Well done to Beth Tweddle who managed a comendable 4th in the bars.
Taekwando - British hopes yet again and we came away with a Silver medal but again another sport where there was controversy over the refering and commentators getting ver disgruntled with what was happening. It appeared that it was almost impossible to score a point when your opponant was from the home nation in the mens event.
In the womens event this was also apparent resulting in the British team lodging a protest as an obvious kick to the face had not been scored which would have changed the result of the contest. After a period of consulation and viewing of TV footage and press photographs the decision being overturned and the win being given to GB and the Chinese champion being out of the contest.
The mens final was even more of a shocker with the Cuban competitor being disqualified for taking over the 1 minute allowed for treatment to an injury during the contest which resulted in the referee receiving a kick to the face and a lifetime ban for the Cuban and his coach.
Rowing - lets not forget one of the sports we have always been fairly good at and have achieved golds in the past the mens rowing, could be again win gold in the cocksless 4 for the 3rd time in a row? We all recall the names of Sir Steve Redgrave and Mathew Pincent who have been our heros in rowing in the past but now with 3 new members in the boat could we do it again. Yet again in another close race we were the champions retaining our place at the top of the tree in this event but how much pressure is now on us to win for a 4th time in 2012 especially as it will be on home ground?
For me I have to say that I also enjoyed the commentary given throughout the games with a few memorable moments where the commentators themselves where that excited that words nearly failed them and some very high pitched voices at points and some sore throats I should think but it certainly did help you keep an interest and add to the excitment.
One of the funniest moments for me was when Steve Parry (bronze medal swimmer in Athens) was sent out onto the streets of Beijing with a full size cardboard cut out of Michael Pheps to find out what the locals thought about Pheps. It became apparent that Phelps was very well known locally but Steve was mistaken for Phelps and literally mobbed by a crowd trying to take his phot and get is autograph. The BBC showed the footagae with Steve trying to tell the crowd that he was not Phelps, but Steve Parry and if you compare the looks of the 2 there are slightly similar in look.
One of our hopes for medals were our relay teams but diaster struck with a disqualification in the mens 4 x 100 for transfer of the batton outside the allowed area but even worse our girls had problems during their race with a batton change also, though if you watch this back there were all sorts of problems for other teams which may have impacted on our failure. The only saving moment is that the Americans where even worse and both the mens and womens teams dropped the batton so they where worse than us.
Cycling has to be the one event that that we have excelled at over recent years with the sport been thrown into the public eye due to our continued and ever improving sucess in this sport. Both the mens and womens team picked up a bundle of gold medals and an impressive world record for the guys in the team perusit. Though why are we so good a cycling and so aweful at track and field events? Is this down to the way the training is handled, how we train as this has to be a factor, we look at the cycling team who all train out of Manchester in the veledrome with a very strict programme and regime by all accounts, maybe we should have a 'centre of excellence' for athelitcis as well where all train together as a team?
One thing that has to be said, we would not have achieved anything without the contribution from lottery funding which has enabled athletes to focus full time on their sport and training no longer having to hold down a full time job in addition in order tgo continue to travel and compete. I feel that funding should be exteneded to younger age groups also as there must be hundereds of young teenagers out there is fantastic ability that are not furtunate enough to come from a background where they can fund their own travel and expenses to commpete as no matter how good you are you have to be out there competing no matter what the sport.
The closing ceremony again was spectacular with a flawless display with GB having and 8 minute slot to strut their stuff and give a taster of what we will offer in 2012. I can imagine that the majority of the crowd in the stadium had no idea who Leona Lewis or Jimmy Page where but the certainly all knew who David Beckham was judging by the roar of the crowd. I enjoyed the spectable of the traditional London bus converting into a stage and overall a good eight minutes which where in total contrast to what the Chinese have done.
As we are all aware food prices are on the increase along with everything else and a few months ago we switched our shopping habbits from Asda to Aldi as I was finding that I was walking away from the till in Asda muttering to myself about how much I seemed to have paid for very little, anyway a family member recommended Aldi and since shipping here we have found quite a few items that have become firm favourites.
One item that I thought I would miss not shopping in one of the big four would be my muller light yogurt but I soon discovered that Aldi have carry a range called Belight and joy or joy have a yogurts in this range also. The yogurts are very similar in packet size and design to muller or the big 4 equivalent of muller and come in a couple of sizes, here I am looking at the family size, 500g pot.
Opening the pot and having a sniff at the contents I get greeted by the aroma of cream and strawberries that is not overpowering nor does it seem artificial. Taking a spoon full out of the pot I see that this has a nice texture and by no means runny which can happen with the less known brands but is very similar in consistency to what I have come to expect and a quality yogurt.
The all important bit, does it taste OK, well yes it does, there is a nice balance between the fruit and the yogurt and it is not overly sweet with the good point being that there are lovely large strawberry pieces in the pot with lots of small bits and seeds also which really does give the impression of natural flavouring and not the horrible artificial strawberry flavour you sometimes encounter. I know I'm fussy where strawberry flavours are concerned and I loathe strawberry milkshakes for the sole reason of the artificial flavours added. Checking out the list of ingredients this confirms that the real strawberries comes before any flavourings, starch and sugars that are used in this product.
This product only contains 0.3g of fat for every 100g which gives it the right to classify itself as a low fat or virtually fat free yogurt and I would certainly recommend giving this ago if you are ever in Aldi and you might just save a few pennies in the process. As the price seems to vary from week to week I will avoid listing this and with inflation currently running at 4.4% I have the feeling that by next week the price I quote will have changed again along with most prices for the majority of products in all supermarkets.
On the whole I will keep to my Belight yogurt and it does go very well as a topping for muesli, a sliced banana or my personal favourite of fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.
Note that this yogurt also comes in individual tubs as well.