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When needing a hotel to stay in a hotel for my Watford away travels to Manchester Utd, I wanted something nearby ground, and the shopping centre and reasonably priced. Luckily Travelodge was running a special price for their newly opended Trafford Park branch. It has been hard to avoid seeing the Travelodge saver deals on offer and so I checked out the Travelodge website, and low and behold, they were offering a reasonable deal
*** Location ***
You certainly need a car if staying here! The hotel is just off junction 10 M60, past the tulip Inn and the regional sports complex Keep going left and you will find the hotel. Be aware this road is newly built and not accessible on sat nav (at least not on my N60!)
If coming by plane or train;
Manchester Airport - 8.8 miles
Urmston Train Station - 1.8 Miles
*** Places to go ***
This hotel could be used as a stopover, or base for a short break because of it's location;
Trafford Centre - ½ mile
Manchester United FC - 4 miles
Old Trafford Cricket Ground - 4 miles
Manchester City Centre - 6½ miles
The Lowry Centre - 5½ miles
***** The Deal *****
For 1 nights stay in a double room in this hotel on a Tuesday night in January the price was £26 room only. The room was non-smoking, and included a bath which sometimes affects the price (showers only are generally cheaper). As I mentioned earlier, you can often get saver rates around the £15 mark but these must be booked well in advance and are usually unavailable on a Saturday night. Even so, it was very reasonable! Why so cheap? Well, according to Travelodge's research, most people staying in a hotel simply want a clean, comfortable place to get a good night's sleep, and are happy to forgo the unnecessary "frills" offered in other establishments. This means that they cut out the additional costs such as toiletries, biscuits, extra towels etc.
*** Check in/out ***
We checked in at 10pm with no problems at all. I handed them my confirmation, and my credit card, and after tapping a few keys on the computer, we had our key and the receipt. All done in 10 minutes! The staff were polite, but not over helpful in directing us to the room, but it was well signposted so no complaints there!
Checking out, again no problems here, we just handed the key over at 11am (check out by 12pm) a semi-friendly 'goodbye' was offered and we were on our way.
*** The Room ***
The hotel is brand new, and has around 50-100 rooms from what I could make out. We had a double room overlooking the river. The room was light and airy, overlooking the car park to the front of the hotel, although quite small in size. It had a double bed, a couch, tea and coffee making facilities and a remote control TV with the terrestrial channels (although for £6 per day you could watch the films on offer, the same ones as the sky box office).
Again the bathroom was basic, it has what you need including a bath and a shower. Bring your own toiletries, as you will only get a bar of soap! The décor was again bright, and airy and quite clean compared to some hotel bathrooms I have been in! The only problem we had was that there was not enough hot water.
*** Food & Drink ***
This Travelodge has no restaurant or bar; however, there are a plethora of restaurants such as Nandos and bars in the Trafford Centre, so you will not go hungry! They do offer a 'breakfast bag' for £4. It includes a fresh banana, croissant and Kelloggs cereal pot (complete with spoon and milk) as well as orange juice and a large cup so you can take coffee or tea from your room with you. You can collect it from reception, or just order at reception the night before and they can deliver it before 7am to your room. I opted not to have this as I believe it is over-priced (and I would prefer a greasy bacon sarnie!).
As I mentioned previously, the Travelodge is more of a hotel for stopping over, rather than a base for a week long holiday. In terms of quality, you get what you pay for; whilst the check in was smooth, and the room comfortable, and adequate for what we needed, I actually missed the extras such as the mini toiletries and biscuits! In addition, there was only one towel per person and I need two - 1 for my hair and 1 for my body. Overall, I would recommend this if wanting to visit the Trafford Centre, or wish to watch a football match. However, I would prefer to pay a little more for those extras and be pampered!
Travelodge Manchester Trafford Park Hotel
17 Trafford Way, Urmston,
Tel: 0870 191 1838
Fax: 0161 747 7419
I am a huge fan of comedy, in particular good sketch shows. Little Miss Jocelyn is no exception. The series features a huge mix of sketches including the first black female US president; an upfront toilet attendant; and a bus driver who likes to sing hymns. Aired on BBC Three in August 2006, the show was also available to people in the UK via Internet streaming. The show also featured some hidden camera footage where unsuspecting members of the public were involved in a scene. Still relatively unknown, series 1 has been released on DVD to my utter delight!
*** The Show ***
The DVD comprises of the first series; 6 episodes containing several hilarious sketches, which depict outrageous situations. Written by Three Non Blonde/The Lenny Henry Show star Jocelyn Jee Esien, (who also plays all the main comedic characters) the sketches and comedy are in times shocking, mirroring that of Little Britain. Much of the comedy relies on Jocelyn's use of black stereotypes. For example, the opening sketch in episode 1 sees a white police officer interviewing a black teenager accused of robbery. The white officer cannot understand what the teenager is saying, so asks a black police officer (Jocelyn) to interpret. The black police officer and teenager hold down a hilarious conversation using lots of 'street' phrases. When told at the end of the interrogation to tell the person to stay out of trouble, the police officer physically attacks the teenager, saying it is the only way they would understand it. Jocelyn becomes the character and is so believable with her endless energy and over exuberant facial expressions that you can only laugh.
*** The Characters ***
Unlike Little Britain and Catherine Tate, Jocelyn uses over 40 characters! Some of the best are as follows;
A Nigerian parking attendant, who constantly finds people for whom she can write parking tickets, each time delivering a lengthy speech and stating that she works "for Queen and Country". Prior to writing out the ticket, she says, "This will take a long time", also mentioning the fact that she has been to university. Jiffy wears an oversized police uniform, has an afro and wears bright blue eye shadow.
A woman that works in an office where the other staff are white, and she is convinced that no one knows she is black, and so goes to any lengths to keep it quiet. She often believes that her "secret" will be compromised due to the presence of another black person, and will believe that everything spoken by this person is related to a Black stereotype, when this is rarely the case. She often is brought to sing urban music or speak local slang in the presence of a black person.
A sophisticated upper class business woman (is also shown as a lawyer). When she is refused something, she will resort to acting like a child, crying and throwing a tantrum, usually until such a time where what she wants is given to her or granted. Is the only character to appear in every episode.
An overweight nurse working in a clinic, but always deals with her patients with voodoo, her idea of complimentary medicine otherwise (according to her) they are beyond help. She mainly deals with patients that are over weight or obese and explains their ideal weights by saying, " the government wants you to be an elephant, not a whale." After that she says "This is your last chance, save yourself"
* Gladys Kingston,
A 40-year-old Jamaican woman who is portrayed to fit the Jamaican stereotype, speaking to and cussing people in Patois. She has a strong hate of males, including her nephew, after her husband left her for a younger woman.
A North London schoolgirl with attitude that is always seen on a bus with one or more friends, making a lot of noise and annoying the other passengers. Sketches involving Sharonisha often parody the fact that the names of many Jamaican people end with the letter "a". Similar to Lauren (Catherine Tate) or Vicky Pollard (Little Britain)
A bus driver that speaks with a Cockney/Nigerian accent. My favourite character! She sings hymns when driving; strongly enforces the rule that says passengers mustn't speak to the driver while the bus is in motion; and refuses to help passengers, often saying that she isn't an A to Z. She is also prone to terminating her bus whenever she feels like it, and insulting passengers: "Eh are you a parrot? Am I Long John Silver?!" when some men stood too close to her, or "Are you a Jehovah's Witness? Stop ringing my bell!" when someone rang the bell on the bus to request her to stop.
A hairdresser whose hair salon is across the street from another hairdresser's salon. The two hairdressers are in direct competition with each other, and one often visits the other to start a fight. Their fights end in the style of a Western, and they use their customers' newly done over-the-top hairstyles as their guns. After unveiling the hairstyles, Lillian always wins, and the other hairdresser (known as Claudette) reacts as though she has been shot with a gun bullet, choking and passing out.
* Toilet Attendant,
A toilet attendant that works in a woman's' toilet. When people leave a toilet cubicle, the attendant will ask what they did, usually first with numbers and then explanations for each one, ie #1 (urination), #2 (defecation), #3 (vomiting), #4 (sexual intercourse), #5 (menstruation). The attendant tries to get the toilet user to buy something for her, and will often make ridiculous requests for £1 GBP. The person will often leave the toilets in disgust, and the attendant goes to the door asking if they want a lollipop, food or Nigerian movies.
* Customs Officer
A customs officer that works at London City Airport. When she stops people to have a look at what is in their luggage she will ask the person if they have anything edible in their luggage. When asked a question herself, she replies "I won't be questioned". Before she eats anything in the bag she asks him/her if they have a license for certain things. Then she munches her way in the bag, before asking that person to leave.
* Jamaican woman
an elderly Jamaican woman whom asks passing mothers to show her their baby in a pram. The woman's politeness then disappears when she describes the baby as ugly or compliments something else at last minute.
The cover is bright and bubbly matching the feel of the show, and displays nine characters, as you would find them in the series.
The menu is easy to use, and plays the very catchy 'Little Miss Jocelyn' theme tune. You can select the various episodes you want to watch, or the various scenes. The extras included on this DVD are extremely lacking. All we are treated to is behind the scene footage to show how the series was made. It features over 30 minutes of Jocelyn becoming each of the characters, waking up at 4am to pile on the make up and wigs. It also shows her fooling around in front of the camera and just generally being silly!
The DVD is available from most DVD outlets, although the prices vary. I purchased mine from Play.com for £12.99
***To sum up ***
If you have read one of my comedy reviews before, you will know my admiration for comedy shows. Whilst this DVD lacks the extra features I crave in DVD's, the quality of the comedy makes up for it. The series features a huge mix of sketches including: the first black female US president; an upfront toilet attendant; a woman with worms; and a Nigerian wife who collects husbands and needs constant marriage counseling. Whilst some people may find elements of the comedy offensive, I think it is a light hearted take on social comment that will no doubt become as mainstream as Little Britain and Catherine Tate.
Since passing my test 3 months ago, my family has noted my poor navigational skills. On recent drives to Portsmouth and Eastbourne (where getting lost doubled the journey time!) I relied on print outs from AA and the old fashioned A-Z. You can imagine my joy at receiving a Sat Nav system for Christmas!
***Navman/The Navman F20***
I have always been skeptical about navigation systems, in particular hearing about the systems directing people the wrong way. However, the F20, is supposedly the simplest, most reliable GPS navigation system on the market today. So on recommendation from friends and because it fitted his price bracket, it led to my other half buying this Navman for £150-£250 (he wouldnt tell me the exact cost!) from Halfords.
The packaging itself is enough to get anyone excited! The device came in a small, colourful, rectangular box highlighting the features and capabilities of the system. I was so excited to play with my new toy, and couldn't wait to prise the box open, but it wouldn't budge! It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to open the thing! Once inside I wasn't disappointed. It had everything I could need including;
1. The Nav Man F20
2. A 12V power socket
3. User manual
4. FAQ guide
5. In car mounting bracket
I had heard from TV adverts and friends that sat navs require complicated installation. However, installing the device into the car is so simple even I can do it!. Attach the simple suction cup holder to a suitable place on the windscreen and plug in the cigarette lighter power unit. After answering a few simple questions about the type of roads you like etc, the system is up and running. I didnt have to read the instructions until wanting to use it for directions.
***Hitting the road ***
The non-reflective 3.5" touch screen looks and works exceptionally well. When mounted on the windscreen you can just reach out and programme information in. It is easy to see in sunlight and resists fingerprint smudging. It is also great to store. I simply unplug and pop in my handbag. It makes a clicking sound when placed safely.
The F20 has four buttons arranged along the right-hand side of the screen. There's a Navigate button that returns you to the map view from the menu system and scrolls through various views during navigation. The Menu button takes you to the top-level menu. The best feature this sat nav has to offer is the dedicated buttons to find the nearest petrol station or car park ideal when youre somewhere unfamiliar, or like me a new driver who is getting used to finding the appropriate parking spaces! If youre holidaying in the UK or fancy a drive, the system also shows you points of interest (zoos/theme parks etc) which are nearby! Or if youre not sure where you have left your car, you can program your car location, and use it as a navigational system to assist you back to the car!
On the right-hand side of the device, there are two buttons for controlling volume, making it easy not to navigate through a menu tree to find the volume control for making adjustments.
Being the big kid that I am, I couldnt wait to get started, and with 95-100% coverage of the UK I was confident it was going to work. I programmed in my home address, which I stored as home on the system. This must be entered before it allows you to search for anything else. If wanting to go to this address I simply have to press home. Favourite addresses can be stored in the favorites section.
When going to a new address, the F20 allows you to choose between the quickest route or the shortest route by using the postcode, street name of town/city search. Once you've selected a destination, the F20 calculates your route and takes you to the navigation view. There are actually four navigation views you can scroll through by pushing the navigation button. The main view is a 3D view that adds a turn arrow with the distance to turn in the upper right-hand corner. The direction and name of the street are shown in text across the top of the screen. The second view is a 2D view that adds the "Next turn" graphic with the distance after the initial turn. The second turn is shown as a smaller graphic below the first turn. The third view is the list view showing turn directions, the distances between turns, and names of streets. Finally there's a "zoomed out" route overview that shows the distance to go and the percentage of trip completed.
I tested the Navman on route to Watford recently. I vaguely knew the route, so I decided to test the system and purposely missed my junction on the M1 to see what it would do. I was very impressed when it instantly rerouted to accommodate my route. I have also learnt many new routes from the system, which have come in handy to avoid traffic. What I found particularly useful is it tells you if there is a speed camera nearby by beeping loudly and beeping again if you go over the speed limit for the road you are on.
You can choose to either have a man or womans voice giving you the directions or can actually see the route on the screen. I would recommend the audio option, as trying to watch the screen can be distracting and dangerous when on the road. When needing to make a turn, the system gives you two warnings, one ahead of time and one just before you have to make the maneuver. This is great for ensuring you are in the right lane. Also useful in the lower left-hand corner of the screen is an icon that displays GPS status and signal strength. In the lower right-hand corner is a field that you can customise with one of six choices: Time; Battery Condition; Speed; Heading; Distance to Go; and Estimated Time of Arrival.
*** Problems ****
In a nutshell, the Navman alerts you to speed cameras and calculates the shortest route. What it doesnt do is give you traffic updates so in effect it could direct you to a route that is blocked off. However, you can buy a T1 Traffic Pack for real-time traffic updates for a one off fee rather than a monthly subscription. This is due to be launched at the end of January 2007
The only issue I had with this system is that there is no mains charger. With the in car charger having a battery life of 2 hours, I am considering purchasing a mains adapter from the Navman website for about £15.
Also worth noting is vehicles with a heated windscreen may require an external GPS antenna.
*** Summary ***
Since hearing some horror stories from friends and the press, I was skeptical about sat nav systems reliability and ease of use. However, take the F20 out of its box and its ready to use with an easy to use menu display on its high-quality, finger-friendly 3.5 touch-screen. And if you thought GPS capabilities and features would command a high price, think again. The F20 introduces a wealth of new features previously only found on much more expensive GPS navigation systems in the price bracket of £150-£250 (depending on what store you visit) As a unit at the lower end price bracket, this Navman F20 is an exceptional buy. However, you still need to be a competent driver and use your own common sense when driving and employing the F20 and just to be on the safe side, keep youre A-Z nearby in the car!
*** Contacts ***
01293 780 950 Monday Friday 9am 5.30pm
Travelodge Portsmouth Hotel
Kingston Crescent, Garfield Road, North End
Portsmouth PO2 8AB
Tel: 0870 191 1707
Fax: 02392 639121
When on my travels to Watford FC away games I always look to stay over and make a weekend of it (lets face it, I need something to cheer about after recent results!) So it came to Portsmouth away and with the Travelodge saver deals on offer it was only natural to check out the Travelodge website, and low and behold, they were offering a reasonable deal
*** Location ***
The location was the main reason of choice as it is only 1 or 2 miles from Fratton Park and the same distance to the town centre right off a main motorway link. Its also a great choice if needing a ferry or one of the other transport links;
Fratton railway stn - 1m
Portsmouth railway stn - 3m
Continental ferry terminal - ½m
Isle of Wight
ferry & hovercraft terminal - 2½m
Southampton airport - 19m
Local bus route available nearby.
Directions I had to drive south down the A3 which joined the M27 and then M275 towards the north end of Portsmouth town centre and Continental Ferries, at the Rudemore roundabout take second exit into Kingston Crescent. The Travelodge is on the right, you cant miss this. Parking is free onsite.
*** Places to go ***
If wanting to explore the local surroundings other attractions nearby include;
Portsmouth University - 1m
Historic Dockyard - 2m
Sea Life Centre - 3m
Outside of Portsmouth, there are a number of places that might take your fancy including;
Isle of Wight (ferry nearby)
Chichester Emsworth - 6.7 miles away
Southampton 15 miles
Arundel Fontwell - 19.3 miles away
***** The Deal *****
For 1 nights stay in a double room in this hotel on a Friday night in November the price was £26 room only (only available if booking 1 month in advance). A bargain! The room was non-smoking, and included a bath which sometimes affects the price (showers only are generally cheaper) Why so cheap? Well, according to Travelodge's research, most people staying in a hotel simply want a clean, comfortable place to get a good night's sleep, and are happy to forgo the unnecessary "frills" offered in other establishments. This means that they cut out the additional costs such as toiletries, biscuits, extra towels etc.
*** Check in/out ***
We checked in at 10pm with no problems at all. The lady on reception was extremely pleasant, and advised us where to go for a night out on the town (we had a lovely evening and discovered the harbour area with the Spinaker Tower and outlet shopping!) I handed over my confirmation, and my credit card, and after tapping a few keys on the computer, we had our key and the receipt. All done in 10 minutes! We were told directions to the room (there were no other signposts!) which was on the 1st floor (there is a lift) overlooking the car park. Checking out, again no problems here, we just handed the key over at 10am (checkout was 12pm) a friendly 'goodbye' was offered and we were on our way. If wanting more information on the Portsmouth area, there are plenty of leaflets to keep you busy. After 10pm, you must press the buzzer to enter (if having a room already you must give your room number).
*** The Room ***
The hotel has around 150 rooms. We had room 104 a double room with sofa bed pull out and as I was expecting is was quite basic, but HUGE! The room was light and airy, overlooking the car park to the front of the hotel. It had a double bed, a couch, tea and coffee making facilities and a remote control TV with the terrestrial channels (although for £6 per day you could watch the films on offer, the same ones as the sky box office).
Again the bathroom was basic, it has what you need including a bath and a shower, but a nice touch was the heated towel rack. Bring your own toiletries, as you will only get a bar of soap! The décor was again bright, and airy and quite clean compared to some hotel bathrooms I have been in! The only problem we had was just one towel each I have long hair and generally need 2 towels but apart from that minor detail, it was just what I needed.
The bed was very comfy, very soft so you melt into it. Im used to hardened beds myself and it could explain why I didnt get a good nights sleep.
*** Food & Drink ***
This Travelodge has no restaurant or bar; however, next door is a Sovereigns Bigsteak pub/restaurant open from 11am-10pm, or a pizza hut takeaway service. This Travelodge does not offer a 'breakfast bag' for £4. (It includes a fresh banana, croissant and Kelloggs cereal pot (complete with spoon and milk) as well as orange juice and a large cup so you can take coffee or tea from your room with you) In other hotels you can collect it from reception, or just order at reception the night before and they can deliver it before 7am to your room.
This is the perfect hotel stopover and a bargain at that! In terms of quality, you get what you pay for; whilst the check in was smooth, and the room comfortable, and adequate for what we needed, I actually missed the extras such as the mini toiletries and biscuits! In addition, there was only one towel per person and I need two - 1 for my hair and 1 for my body. Overall, I would recommend this if wanting to visit Portsmouth for a weekend, or for any other close attraction.
Being the huge football fan that I am, I couldnt let a recent trip to Barcelona pass by without visiting one of the most spectacular stadiums in the world
.no, its not Vicarage Road (that is THE greatest!)
..The Nou Camp. Technically called "El Nou Estadi del Futbol Club Barcelona", it is the home of European Champions FC Barcelona. I was lucky enough to have a tour of the stadium, and see their first game as defending champions against Levski Sofia
the score was 5-0
*** The stadium ***
FC Barcelona was founded in the late 19th century, and occupied several stadia around the city before moving to the Nou Camp in September 1957. This was inevitable as the club's popularity had soared during the 50s, driven by the team's amazing success. The first match that took place in the Camp Nou was FC Barcelona against a team from Warsaw and the Barcelona line-up in the new Stadium was formed by: Ramallets, Olivella, Brugu, Segarra, Vergs, Gensana, Basora, Villaverde, Martnez, Kubala and Tejada. Bara won 4-2. With a capacity of 98,787, the stadium is easily one of the largest (if not the largest) in Europe, and certainly in the top 5 in the world. It sits 48 metres high and has a surface of 55,000 square metres (250 m long and 220 m wide). Its one of those sights that simply takes your breath away! We were seated on the 2nd tier, by the corner flag an excellent view. I could actually make out who Ronaldinho was without squinting! Any higher and the players look like ants! The away fans are given a very small section on the top tier, maybe no more than 3,000-6,000 seats. There are 2 screens at the top tiers behind both goals, so if you are in the heavens, you can keep up with whos who, and if you miss one of the goals, they will replay the action. When the players walk out to the pitch, the Barca song plays. I couldnt understand a word, but there is lots of clapping!) The only other chant that ran through the game was Gooooooal! when a player scored. A great atmosphere, although Im used to Watford games being on the noisy side! One word of advice if you can, make sure you sit in the section with the roof otherwise if it rains as heavily as it did when we were there, you wont be able to see the game! (you can guess what happened to us!)
*** Food and Drink ***
There were hot dogs on offer costing a few Euros (£2), and the line stemmed all the way around to the next block. I noticed that many of the Spaniards like to bring their own food, usually sandwiches wrapped in tin foil! Unlike grounds in the UK, you can actually take pints of beer to your seats. Again, queues were huge at half time.
*** Toilets ***
Be prepared to queue and take your own tissue! In my block, there were no signs of which toilets were which need I say more!
*** Tickets for games ***
As you can imagine, tickets for games (in particular, Champions League games or a local derby) can be hard to come by. If living in the UK you can do one of 2 things 1. pre-purchase with a tour company such as Last Minute.com. These are usually three times the cost of what you would expect to pay on the door, but it will guarantee you a seat before you go to Barcelona. Alternatively, you can purchase on the day from the ticket box outside the grounds. We went straight from the airport to the grounds just to make sure. Our ticket cost 35Euros (£25) which considering it was a Champions League game, and the view we had, is cheaper that what Crystal Palace charge to watch them play South End in the Championship! They have a scanner system in operation, ensuring dodgy tickets are stamped out. When ours failed to scan, I started to panic thinking they were fake tickets, however, we were led to a room by one of the helpful stewards (luckily Simon speaks Spanish) and they gave us a replacement barcode to be scanned.
*** The tour ***
Considering the history of the club, and the shear size of this magnificent stadium, a tour is a necessity! The cost is 11 Euros (£7) for a guided tour around the ground and the museum. The museum is packed full of artefacts from over the years. Video screens are dotted everywhere, replaying Barcelona's magical European Cup triumph of 1992, with lots of memorabilia from their most recent win, with more to add I am sure! There are also hundreds of shields given throughout their various cup and European games, along with sculptures and antique balls cementing the rich history of the club. Most impressive are the shining trophies on display including La Liga and the Champions League! I could not help but to take a few pictures, as I will not see it at Vicarage Road for a few years!
Although the pitch was out of bounds, we were allowed to explore the rest of the stadium, from pitch-side, to the heavens! From up there, the groundsmen looked like ants! We were also allowed in the changing rooms, and to walk through the tunnel! Just give me a pair of footie boots and call me Ronaldihno! Well, not quite, but it was very exciting! What really fascinated me was the sheer size of the pressrooms, and the stadium has its very own TV studio!
*** The club shop ***
A walk around the store is another must (at Vicarage Road it is more like a shed!) what a store . 2 storeys of every piece of merchandise you can imagine! They obviously sell the replica kits (around £40) and scarves, but there are also signed balls, boots, pencil cases, you name it they have it! Even miniature cartoon figures are available! Stalls sell unofficial merchandise outside, so we picked up some cheap souvenirs such as a plastic wallet for Simons oyster card for 1 Euro.
The Nou Camp was everything I imagined it would be gigantic, atmospheric, and historic. The stadium itself is enough to take your breath away, but the enormity of the collection of artefacts is mesmerising. It is understandable why Barcelona love their club and stadium so much. Barca, Barca!
***Information and reservations for museum ***
Tel. (+34) 93 496 36 00
Fax. (+34) 93 496 37 79
***Opening hours ***
From Monday to Saturday: 10:00-18:30 - Tour Camp Nou until 17:30
Sundays and Bank holidays: 10:00-14:00 - Tour Camp Nou until 13:30
Days with a Champions League at the stadium: 10:00-13:00 - Tour Camp Nou doesn't work
1/1, 6/1 and 25/12, closed
***How to get there ***
Address: Avinguda Aristides Maillol, s/n, 08028, Barcelona.
Located in the northwest of the city, the stadium is a few minutes' walk from Collblanc Metro station (L5 Light-Blue).
Bus lines: 7, 15, 43, 67, 68, 74, 75, L12, L50, L60 and L62. Metro: Line 3 (Get off at Maria Cristina or Les Corts) and Line 5 (Get off at Collblanc and walk 10 mins or Badal).
From the port area it took us 20 minutes by metro.
£1 = $1.81
£1 = 1.42 Euro
*** Introduction ***
As many of you know, I love to travel, and cruising for me is the best way to see some of the worlds most impressive sights in style. I have sailed with Ocean Village twice, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL) three times all were wonderful, and so Celebrity had a lot to live up to!
I booked the 10-night Balearic Island cruise only option on The Century (sailing 15th September) in March for my boyfriend and I. I booked the flights separate with Easyjet, and booked 3 nights in an apartment near the beach in Barcelona pre cruise.. By booking separately, the whole package cost us £685 each! An absolute bargain!
I booked the holiday with Fast Track, a company that specialises in cruises. They were doing a special deal, for that date only. I initially booked the lowest grade inside accommodation on deck 8. However, as we are Select members of the Captains Club (a loyalty programme that gives you excellent benefits throughout the cruise) we were upgraded to deck 9 free of charge.
*** Information about Celebrity Cruises and Cenutry ***
Celebrity prides itself on being one of the most luxurious brands on the sea, offering you rest and relaxation with lots of decadent touches. Century is one of the brands oldest ships. At 11 years old, it was looking rather tried compared to ships from its sister company Royal Caribbean. Therefore, Celebrity plunged $55 million into a makeover for the ship; in just 34 days in dry dock, the ship returned with 314 new verandas and newly fitted cabins. The introduction of Murano, a new specialty restaurant. The existing Aqua Spa was completely gutted and re-designed, and the line's only stand-alone Aqua Spa Café, a barber shop for men; a martini bar with lights that change colour. All public areas were recarpeted, and these are just a few of the changes! It is amazing how much work was done in a short space of time. It now measures up to the more design-forward vessels of today's contemporary era, but with a capacity of 1750, and 868 crew it maintains its intimate touch.
*** Embarkation ***
We caught a taxi from the harbour to the dock at around 11.15am which cost us 6 euros. We were told not to board until 2pm but on previous cruises, they have always allowed us on earlier. On first impressions, Century looked like an older sister in comparison with Costa Fortune and Carnival that were in dock. When getting out of the taxi walked straight through to the terminal and was checked in with our cruise cards and onboard with a glass of champagne within 15 minutes. Very efficient!
When getting on the ship we were handed a newsletter, which tells you what is going on that day, and over the week, (these are also delivered to your cabin every night along with chocolates on pillows and a map for the port of call for information on the next day). First impressions on the inside of the ship were also much better than I had expected. Everything was clean and looked stylish, a very elegant ship.
*** Cabins ***
Celebrity offers a number of choices when it comes to cabins. The standard size is 175 square ft, with the space maximed to its full potential, making it feel much more spacious than it actually is. Apart from inside cabins, you can also have outside (room with window) Veranda (room with balcony), ConciergeClass (balcony with perks such as Frette bathrobes, fresh flowers, daily hors d'oeuvres, a special Concierge Class breakfast menu including the "signature" dishes, such as granola berry parfait, and baked bananas!). Suites are larger than balcony rooms, and come with a butler, DVD player and sumptuous bathroom! We opted for the inside, as it was cheapest! We were told that our cabins would not be ready until 1pm, but we could not contain our excitement, and popped down at 12pm to find it was ready. All of the cabins were recently refitted to create a boutique hotel chic feel! Oak panels cover the walls and make up the furniture, and warm regal red colours fill the room. There is plenty of drawer and wardrobe space, a flat screen TV with limited channels, (2 movie channels that never worked, Cartoon network, music videos which repeated themselves, CNN and ESPN in addition to the ships own channels) The bathroom is particularly spacious with a modern raised basins, shower and hairdryer. The shower easily fits two. You also get bathrobes, towels, and even shampoo, and body lotion incase you forget, along with cotton wool, cotton buds and a shower cap! The bed was my favourite part Egyptian cotton sheets with two huge pillows! I could have slept all day in these comfortable beds! Nice touches are the small, individual lamps attached to the walls above the bed allowing one person to read without disturbing the other.
*** Food ***
~~~ The Grand Dining Room ~~~
Century's sprawling, two-story dining room is the ship's primary focal point for dining. It serves open seating breakfast and lunch, and then offers two seatings for dinner at 6.15 and 8:45p.m (you let your travel agent know which you would like before the cruise) In here you will receive a 5 course dinner every night consisting of Appetiser, Soup, Salad, Entrée and dessert.
The cuisine, overseen by the cruise line's uber-chef, the Michelin-starred Michel Roux, offers a terrific blend with emphasis on classic French cuisine. The highlights me included Escargot (I have had them previously and found the garlic sauce overpowering), the baked Alaska (which included a dance from the waiters) and the rest of the desserts!
The dining room itself is very regal looking, with its huge, two-deck high window on the ship's aft allowing for a perfect view of the sunset.
Service in The Grand was very good. Our waiters, Ronis and Savio were charming and ensured we had everything we needed, my water glass was never empty and I could have more than one appetiser rather than soup and salad. Simon had six helpings of frogs legs one night!
A note about seating: tables for two are very limited and generally located in some of the less desirable spots. Most tables were for six and eight. We were seated with three other delightful couples, one from Greece, USA, and another from Wales. If you would like to move, you must talk to the maitre d' who will try to arrange something for you.
~~~ Island Café ~~~
The "Casual Dining Boulevard" offers a variety of stations and options, from breakfast's homemade waffles to lunch's sandwich soup and salad bar (in addition to the usual buffet fare). The Pizza and Pasta Centre (just a counter where you can order made-to-specification fare) was dangerously tempting; open from noon to 1 a.m., it was a great place for a before-dinner snack.
Tea, with attendant pastries and sandwiches, is served here from 4 - 5 p.m. (and at The Grand although you must dress appropriately).
There is also a lush Sushi Cafe. Open only from 6 - 10 p.m., it is located at the very end of the "boulevard," right up against the Sunset Bar. The spread of various rolls is beautifully laid out, delicious to taste and the cafe itself, with its black lacquer decor, is atmospherically Asian.
Just beyond the "Boulevard" is a grill open until 7pm, offering hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries, along with a special or two every day such as Paella and curry.
At night, a portion of the Lido is transformed into the Island Cafe for casual dining. Reservations are required (which takes the casual out of dining), and you do not have to dress up. Suggested gratuity here is $2.
~~~The Cova Café ~~~
Located on Deck 6, is a small elegant café open from 8:30 a.m. - 11 p.m. You pay for the beverages -- coffees, such as latte, espresso and the like, as well as various teas and a delicious hot chocolate. The snacks, which range from croissant and Danish in the morning to pastries and cookies later, are complimentary. There is a wine tasting some nights between 6 - 8:30 p.m. for a small extra fee. There is often live music (mostly classical) from the ships jazz signer.
~~~ Murano. ~~~
On deck 5 opposite the guest relations department is a speciality restaurant (only 66 seats) with Michele Roux supervising the menu. It looks simply elegant white with glittering chandeliers and candles. A harpist plays gently throughout the meal.
There is a $30 per passenger service charge just to sit down at Murano's but it is worth it! Beyond the fact that the cuisine is of incredibly high quality, the service is personable, professional (five staff serving two of us!) and the main meals are often flambéed by your tableside! The meal took 3 hours; we were still eating at midnight!
Muranos has two menus. The first is a four-course meal that you order a la carte, one item from each category. It starts with an appetizer (lobster bisque and. goat cheese soufflé are highly recommendable), moves on to an entree (the Dover sole was superb), and then to dessert (Michele Roux surprises or souflee). Portions are appropriate -- not too big, not too small -- so when you move on to the last course -- cheese -- you are not as stuffed as you would think. Just to ensure you are not hungry, the chef sends out a few surprises, and comes out to meet everyone, which was a splendid touch.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can opt for the "exceptional" menu. There is one more course, but each is a bit smaller so as not to overstuff, and they are pretty much chosen for you (rather than the longer list on the standard menu you have a choice of a couple of items in each category). The wines are included in the $100 per person tariff; the usual $30 service fee for Murano was an added charge.
I would recommend booking on embarkation...we left it 2 hours and didn't get our first choice! We spoke to the Matradee who was a lovely gentleman informed us on the last day that there had been several cancellations throughout the week and we would have been able to eat there again.
~~~ Spa Café ~~~
Tucked in a simple, serene space next to the spa, it was my favourite place to eat, offering light and healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. Beware it is always full of people! The chefs and wait staff of Murano operate the café, which could be why the quality of the food was much nicer The blueberry tart simply divine!
~~~ Room Service ~~~
On a cruise that featured an ultra intensive itinerary, room service was a godsend; at 8am when all we wanted was a croissant when getting ready for an excursion, we could fill out a form and hang it on the door before 4am, or order through our television. The service was prompt, efficient and the food ranged from the kind of 24-hour stuff you usually see -- sandwiches, salads, burgers to the food on the dining room menus at lunch and dinner.
So many bars, so little time! We relaxed with a drink before dinner in the Martini Bar, which features a shivery, ice-like décor in which the lights change colour and the bar is frozen (the waiter also does magic tricks!), and the elegant Michael's Club next door, were popular places for cocktails. The Rendez-Vous Square featured mostly classical music with some dancing, along with the slightly larger Crystal Room. Hemispheres was my favourite, located at the top-of-the-ship, it is an observation lounge and disco that goes on until past 3am! The DJ was superb in the variety of music he played and the requests we made were always aired.
Post-dinner, the main entertainment occurred in the Celebrity Theatre, with shows and concerts such as "Shout", and a tribute to the Broadway shows. They were OK. Other acts in the week included an Irish comedian (his jokes very old fashioned) and pianist Tian Jiang. If not in the theatre, you could find a late night country hoe-down and sock hop, both of which were extremely popular, seeing everyone on the dance floor!.
~~~ The Casino ~~~
This is not the biggest of casinos, but whenever I was in there it was never full. On the outside of the room along the walk ways are the slot machines, taking 25cents true Las Vegas style! These were always busy. In the middle of the room is a cashiers (you can change money/charge to your account) and the tables include roulette, and blackjack. It's fun to watch, but a bit beyond my limit of $1 minimum bets! The only advice I can offer here is to bring a wad of cash, as the casino only accepts American Dollars, otherwise you can charge your cruise card but prepare to run up a hefty bill! I didnt see anyone win, and we spent a lot of time watching. It is open when the ship is at sea, generally until the very early hours of the morning.
~~~ Cinema/Conference room ~~~
A very cosy room showing films such as the Wedding Crashers, and War of The Worlds. There is one film per day shown at three different times of the day. I found it to be much more comfortable than a 'real' cinema, with plenty of leg and bum room! It doubles up as a conference room with lectures of guests, such as a producer from the BBC, and other realms of the entertainment world. I didnt make any, but they sounded quite interesting.
*** Day Entertainment ***
Entertainment on board, as you can imagine, primarily existed on sea days, consisting of organised bridge games, champagne or wine tasting, and activities' staff events such as table tennis or various trivia games (Name That Tune, Scattergories, Family Fortunes, and you can win prizes!) There are also art auctions where you get a free glass of champagne, oh and you can bid on the art too!
~~~ Gym and Aqua Spa~~~
Like most of the ship, every square inch of the Aqua Spa (deck 11) was remodelled, leaving a very professional looking spa/salon/gym area. I only used the gym twice, far too energetic for me on holiday! The gym area was very big with brand new equipment; most had TVs so you could enjoy a movie or watch the news during your workout.
In the ladies changing area there is a dry sauna. I used it once, not sure what a dry sauna does, but it was very hot! Gym classes run throughout the cruise - things like Pilates, yoga, and spinning require a fee; stretching and aerobics do not. They were often at inconvenient times (7am or 5pm) meaning I was either asleep or ashore.
The spa area is serene and tranquil. New features include a Persian Garden relaxation room, outfitted with steam showers and heated tile loungers. There's a charge of $15 to use this-- I never got around to it. More interesting was the Barber Shop for men and tooth whitening treatments, a dedicated area that included a heated lounger and flat-screen television. There's also a stand-alone acupuncture facility adjacent to the spa the first of its kind at sea.
Full ranges of treatments are offered from standard massages and beauty treatments to fancier stuff, like an "Egyptian Ceremony of Milk and Ginger" and a "Tahitian Ceremony of Flowers." The stones treatment looked interesting. Prices did go down during the week, to around $89 for three 20-minute spa treatments. We participated in the couples massage class for $55 per couple, and we received some massage oil to take home and practise what we learnt!
~~~ Sports ~~~
There is a basketball court on deck 14. This was only open twice and only on the sea days, and always used for football. Although there was nowhere that said, Im guessing you had to ask for the ball from the activities staff if you wanted to play at any other time. For the not so active, like me, shuffleboard is a fun game to play located on deck 6! Alternatively, there is the golf simulator located on deck 13, which was broken during our visit!
~~~ Pools ~~~
There are two pools, pretty much next to each other on deck 11. I only went in the one nearest the four Jacuzzis, which was 6ft deep. The other pool was only 4ft 11 deep, and got most of the shade! The water is a mixture of salt and chlorine, and was always nice and refreshing. On a hot day sitting poolside, the waiters bring out freshly made sorbets for your eating pleasure!
*** Other areas of the ship ***
Online@Celebrity - Internet stations, costing 75cents a minute, and you can also upload your photos onto CD and store them on the hard drive. Also on this deck is Celebrity's High Seas Computing classroom, with rows of terminals and a variety of workshops; options ranged from Adobe Photoshop to Web site design and from basic Introduction to Windows to Microsoft Excel. Classes are $20 apiece.
A card room A decent size with tables covered in greed felt.
A library Quite large, it actually spills over into the game room),
*** Children ***
I counted four children on board our cruise! Century has a specific kids programme divided into four age groups: Shipmates (3 - 6), Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12) and Teens (13 - 17). Activities are held, on sea days and include "party crafts" and "family scavenger hunt" for the Shipmates, "Super Hero Intensive Training" for Cadets, "Scavenger Quest" and a talent show for Ensigns, and "Dodgeball Insanity" for teens.
Teenagers are blessed with the X-treme teen facility, carved out of a portion of the top-of-the-ship Hemisphere's. It's beautifully elegant with dark panelled walls and 1960's streamlined couches and chairs. It also has an arcade where you can select an amount for the kids to spend!
*** Tips (Gratuities) ***
Tips are a big deal on American ships. Celebrity collects gratuities the old-fashioned way. Envelopes are provided for cash tips and recommended amount guidelines are offered. These are $3.50 per day for the room steward and waiter and $2 per day for each of their assistants. There is also an envelope for the "assistant head housekeeper" with a recommended tip amount of $0.50 per day. You can request the tips to be put on your onboard account, or as we did, pre-paid to include it in the price of our holiday, so on the last day of our cruise, we received coupons, which we placed in the envelopes. I find this a lot easier than rummaging around for dollars on the last day of the cruise.
*** Summary ***
Although it wasnt the best cruise I had, it was still a lovely trip, mainly because of the small touches such as the ice cream by the pool, and the ice cold flannels waiting for you on your return to the ship after a hot day. The food, the itinery, and the cabins are also superb. However, everything on board seemed to exude expense; the martinis costing $10 (plus 15% tax and then gratuity) having to spend $100 in shuttle passes, and the lack of activities really put me off Celebrity. But then thats the audience for Celebrity. Nevertheless, its makeover will ensure Centurys regin of the seas as it can excel is in offering a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (from private balconies to alternative dining) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels.
*** Facts ***
Century is a 5* ship
Length: 815 feet
Speed: 22.3 knots
Drinks and excursions are not included in the price, and both are expensive.
All plugs are American, therefore you will need a converter if taking British electrical goods
The ship takes dollars, although you can settle the bill in Euros.
Sea sickness pills are available from the guest relations office on deck 5 free of charge
*** Contact details ***
Telephone No: 0800 018 2525
Fax No: 01932 820286
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in the Mediterranean itinerary, here is what we in our ports of call
**** Ports of Call ***
I was probably least excited about this port of call pre-cruise, but it turned out to be one of my favourite places! I was still ill from my cold, so we decided to sleep in a little longer, and not go to Aix-Provence, but to just walk around the old town. It rained in the morning, so we left the ship at around 11am and bought the shuttle tickets ($10) which dropped us off by the harbour. The rain had eased off a little so we caught the little train, which takes you up to the Notre Dame which is also by the harbour It was the best 5 euros we spent! An automated voice tells you in four different languages the various pieces of history to go with the sights, all of the way up to the top of the hill, and drops you off for you to explore and take pictures, then drops you off back at the harbour. The Church was stunning, as were the views. Back at the harbour, we walked up the main street to the shopping centre, had a look at the local market and bought some lavender and soaps, and made our way back to the ship, on board for 3pm.
As we visited Rome on a previous cruise, we decided to visit just the Vatican. We were off the ship by 8.15am, catching the free shuttle provided by the port authorities to the main road. We turned right here and walked along the coast to the train station. There was a large queue as the Queen Mary 2 was also in dock, but it moved very quickly and we were on the train by 8.45am. Tickets cost around 5 euros each and you must validate the ones you buy from the machine before boarding. For the Vatican, the stop is St Peters, which took 45 minutes. As we walked into the Vatican Square (5 minutes from the station) my heart sank as I saw the queue for The Basillica. I was not feeling great and didnt want to stand around all day. However, the queue moved quickly and we were inside within 30 minutes. There are no words to describe how beautiful this church is. It is the worlds largest in the worlds smallest state! I was in complete awe and could easily spend all day there. However, we had the Sistine Chapel to see. So we walked around the corner to find an even longer queue for the Vatican museum (where the Sistine chapel is located). I had reserved an official Vatican museum tour (22 euros per person) for 12pm but did not receive confirmation back, so assumed this was not processed. I thought I would try to walk to the front to see if I could enter but I could see no way of getting in, even for reserved tours! So we queued for 45 minutes to get in (the day before was more than 2 hours). Luckily, the line kept moving. If you would like a tour, you have to book 1 month in advance through the Vatican, otherwise there were English-speaking tour guides in the queue who were offering their services for around 25 euros, meaning you did not have to queue. When we were in, I headed to the tour desk who confirmed they DID have reservations for us! So we were kitted out with the headphones to hear our tour guide perfectly without her shouting, and we made our way around the 4 miles worth of Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. They are breathtaking! A marvel that you could look at for weeks and still find something new. A tour guide is necessary as there is so much history to understand, and no book or plaque to explain what it means. It was definitely the highlight of my trip! I was still feeling a little poorly, so we headed back (the train journey was longer going back!) and was back on the ship by 4pm. We ate at a pizza place on the way to the station, where the price is worked out by weighing the pizza! We shared a huge slice for less than 5 euros!
We were tendered to shore at around 10am, and I found it to be a very pretty place with a few shops. As it was a Sunday, there was nothing much happening, so we took the train (2.80 Euros return) to Nice taking 10 minutes. We walked from the train station to the Promenade (15 minutes) past all of the big shops which were closed, and stumbled across a market 1 block back from the promenade, with stalls selling everything from lavender (sachets for 1 Euro) to fruit and veg. I had a lovely time pottering around the various stalls. Also along this walkway are several cafes and restaurants, specialising in fish courses. They looked lovely, but we decided to buy a large slab of bread with cheese and tomato and sit on the beach. We walked back down the promenade (after demolishing a chocolate crepe!) and headed to Villefranche where we finished the day on the beach which is located directly in front of the train station. One of my favourite days!
As we have previously been to Florence, we decided to visit Lucca, a charming walled city in between Florence and Pisa. We had no problems getting to Lucca (the shuttle bus from the ship to the town $10, then a bus to the train station 1 Euro) although we had to wait an hour for the next train (train cost us around 20 euros, we had to change at a station beginning with V, taking us around 45 minutes) We didnt get to Lucca until 12pm, and so just had a walk around, admiring the charming market, and the lovely scenery. There are places to hire bikes (although we could not find them) and a few shops to look in, along with a lovely park perfect for picnics. We left at around 2.30pm then had a nightmare getting back as we got on the wrong train (two trains came on the platforms at the same time, we just forgot it wasnt our platform!) and to cut a long story short, we didnt get back to the ship until 6.30pm! And to top it off we got in trouble from the police for crossing the tracks to get to the platforms! We saw everyone else doing this, so we thought thats what you had to do! Despite the disaster, it meant we go to see a charming town, where we ate the most delicious slice of pizza for 1 Euro! I love Italy!
Palma de Mallorca
A very hot day! We were in Palma 3 months previously so we decided to just hit the shops and head back to the ship. We brought the shuttle pass $10 each (a rip off in my opinion as it was only a 10 minute cab ride) which drops you off outside of the Cathedral, and picks you up here also, and we walked into town (C&A, Zara, and Promod are my favourite shops!) We were relieved to get back on the ship and in the pool!
I had originally planned to visit Formentera due to lush beaches. However, we were really feeling tired at this point in the cruise and didnt make it out of bed until 11.30am. As we had to be back by 4.30pm there was really little point in going, so we decided pay for the $10 shuttle into town (10 minutes ride) and walk up to the castle at the top of the hill. There were stunning views but it is a steep climb. After numerous pictures we headed back down to explore the shops, and watch the world go by over tapas and ice cream!
Celebrity was offering a $10 shuttle ride into town (a good 25 minutes from the port) dropping you off at the bullring, where you can have a walk around (there is a lot to cover on foot). However, we were here 6 months previously and so had originally planned to go to the beach (a 20 minute walk from the port or a 5 Euro taxi ride) and maybe to the shopping centre. Typically, it was raining heavily! Therefore, we decided to catch a taxi (6 euros) to the shopping centre, which is opposite the arts centre and the aquarium and spent a few hours browsing the shops. It was still raining at lunchtime, but we decided to head to the beach anyway (6 Euro taxi ride) and visit a fabulous paella restaurant we ate in the last time we were here (Valencia is famous for its rabbit paella). We had a lovely time watching the world go by! We decided to cut our losses come 3pm and head back to the ship to play the trivia games!
Post-cruise shore excursion - Montserrat
Our flight wasnt leaving until 6.30pm, and of course you must be off the ship before 9am, therefore to save hanging around at the airport for hours, I booked up a half day tour of Montserrat which dropped you at the airport at 1pm. It is a mountain around 1 hour from Barcelona, with a monastery housing the black Madonna. I booked up before we left, and paid the £25 per person, and our tickets were delivered to our cabin 2 days before the end of our cruise. We met with the rest of the group in the crystal lounge, and was handed a purple sticker. At 8.30am we were led off the ship and to the terminal where we claimed our luggage and loaded it onto the coach. Our tour guide was boring in my opinion. Very serious, a dull voice, and no charisma. He gave all the relevant information, a little more history about the Monastery would have been nice before we saw it, but he saved it until we got back on the coach! The views going up the mountain were delightful, and the Monastery itself was stunning. Very peaceful, and serene, I could have spent the whole day watching the world go by! There are a few shops, and a coffee shop to have a drink and buy souvenirs, well worth a visit! At 1pm we were dropped off at the airport, and luckily we were transferred to an earlier flight!
I love tennis, in fact its one of the very few sports I can watch and play. So when planning a trip to New York last year we decided to incorporate it around the US open held at Flushing Meadows
*** History of event ***
Celebrating its 125th year, the US open is the richest professional tennis event in the world, with the winner of the singles events winning $1,200,000! This is the hard court event in the grand slam series, held late August/early September at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. The first U.S. National Singles Championship for men was held at the Newport Casino, Newport, R.I., in August 1881. Only clubs that were members of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association were permitted to enter. That was the beginning of a 34-year reign for Newport as the tennis center of the country. Beginning in 1900, the U.S. National Men's Doubles Championship was layered, with tournaments held in the East and West and sectional winners playing off to determine which team would meet the defending champions in the challenge round. The advent of the Open Era in 1968 consolidated all five major U.S. tennis championships into the US Open at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, N.Y. A total of $100,000 was offered to the field of 96 men and 63 women who entered men's and women's singles and doubles that year. Today, the US Open, now called Flushing Meadows, offers more than $18.5 Million to a field of more than 600 men and women, including qualifying.
*** Getting to Flushing Meadows ***
Flushing meadows is located in Queens around 45 minutes by subway from Manhattan. We took the metro; take the Flushing bound 7 train from Times Sq and go to Willets point-Shea stadium station, or the Queens bound E or F trains to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue and transfer to the 7 train. If outside of Manhattan, you can also get the New Jersey Transit train to Penn station and take the LIRR to Shea Stadium station. The entrance is around a 10/15 minute walk from the metro. There is a form of transportation from the metro (a guy riding a bike pulling a cart!) at a small cost. Limited car parking is available for $13. (£8)
*** The grounds ***
Flushing meadows has around 20 courts dotted around the grounds. Apart from the main stadiums, you can dip in and out of each court depending on which match you want to see. There is no allocated seating, and you are more than welcome to stand. Before going into the Arthur Ashe for the main matches, we dipped in and out of a few doubles games whilst walking around and taking everything in. We also watched Agassi training on the practise court. I believe he played the previous day. The grounds themselves are stunning, with glorious water features dotted around, and lots of greenery for relaxing picnics.
As youre enthralled on one match, you sometimes miss the other results. So a large screen with the days fixtures and results is prominent outside the Arthur Ashe stadium.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium is the main tennis stadium of the U.S. Open, the equivalent of Centre Court in Wimbledon. It was named after the famous African American tennis player, Arthur Ashe, who won the inaugural U.S. Open in 1968. It opened in 1997, replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium as the main stadium. Arthur Ashe Stadium features 22,547 individual seats, 90 luxury suites, five restaurants and a two-level players' lounge. It is truly spectacular! We were lucky to see the round 4 which involved Federra and Hewitt. Play started at around 1pm. We opted for the cheap seats at the back making it extremely uncomfortable with the sun beaming down, (although we were given a paper fan!) also making it difficult to see the players and even the ball at times! As it is a very steep drop it also made me feel a little nauseous at times. I couldnt sit down for more than 10 minutes without taking a break from the sun. So I spent much of the time of the Federra match standing by the refreshments shop watching it on TV. During Hewitts match we had a walk around the stadium, and I noticed how relaxed and informal the atmosphere is compared to Wimbledon. You could talk during play, walk around, and even sit in empty seats (which we did when there was shade available!) We spent much of our day here as the main matches took place, but was forced to leave after the last afternoon match to make way for the evening audience, which I believe was Venus Williams (and was completely sold out).
*** Entertainment ***
When going to the US open I was expecting to see only tennis .but as you walk through, to the left of the entrance there is an activity tent with various tennis related games. You can see how fast your serve is, practise your return of serve, and test your speed of reaction. I literally had to be dragged out of here! You can also have your photo taken in a booth and check the Internet, or just sit and relax in a comfy chair watching the matches on a big screen! And all of this is free! Expect queues and dont forget your camera!
*** Shops ***
Near the Arthur Ashe stadium there is a large store selling various US Open related merchandise from T-shirts to tennis balls! The prices are what you would expect of a major tournament $20 (14) for a T-shirt, $60 (40) for a tracksuit. My only souvenir was a programme, which cost $10 (6). Despite the cost there seemed to be huge queues, so make sure you get there early.
*** Food & drink ***
Not only is there a whole food village dedicated to your culinary delights, but there are also specialty restaurants if you feel like treating yourself. I found the food very expensive (1 awful tasting hotdog $6 or £4) But there is a lot to choose from;
Vaulted ceilings, vibrant colours and a casual but elegant wine bar combine with the superlative seafood offerings of renowned chef Ed Brown of The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center to make Aces the ultimate stadium dining experience. You can also enjoy Aces' flavorful and sumptuous cuisine in your suite with the Aces Platinum Package Series. Aces is open throughout the day and evening, and the menu includes;
Plateau Royale - The Ultimate Seafood Platter
Sea Grill Lump Crab Cakes
Black Angus Filet Mignon with Buttermilk Onions
Champions Bar & Grill
A contemporary setting with classic leather and wood accents, Champions Bar & Grill is a modern take on the traditional clubhouse atmosphere. The Grill offers premium steaks, hearty chops, fresh seafood and salads and is open throughout the day and evening. The menu includes;
Hand-selected Angus Beef - Boneless New York Sirloin, T-Bone Steak andPorterhouse for Two
Coldwater Hard Shell Lobster
Grilled Yellow Fin Tuna Steak with Pineapple and Mango Salsa
US Open Club
The US Open Club is located on the ground floor of Arthur Ashe Stadium. The Club is available to all Subscription Series ticket holders for the duration of the tournament for a nominal entrance fee, and is included for Silver Loge Box seat holders. Specialty Items:
Grand Buffet with Prime Rib of Beef
Rotisserie Chicken with Yukon Gold Potatoes
Peppered BBQ Brisket of Beef Sandwich with Fries
This is the one place we stopped at as it does look very attractive, and one of the few places in the shade! Specialty Items: Spicy Thai Chicken Wings with Pineapple
10 oz. Steakhouse Cheeseburger with French Fries
Roasted Salmon Fillet with Pineapple Salsa
Bittersweet Chocolate Layer Cake
Or enjoy the different cocktails!
Enjoy regional cuisine and specialty items at the US Open Food Village:
 Bakery Café
 Barilla's Pasta, Pizza & Salad Kitchen
 Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Shop
 Drop Shot Cocktails
 Franks and Fries
 Fresca Mexicana
 Fulton Seafood Exchange
 Glatt Kosher Stand
 Grilled Hamburgers
 Indian Cuisine
 Java Court
 NY Deli
 Savory & Sweet Crepes
 Sushi Court
*** Tickets ***
To Purchase Tickets visit the US site Ticketmaster.com, or call Ticketmaster at 1-866-OPEN-TIX when in American, or visit any Ticketmaster Outlet. You can also visit the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Box Office on the day. By purchasing through ticketmaster you can book well in advance and guarantee your seat, and once the schedule is announced, you can pick and choose who you want to see! We opted for the cheap seats at the very top of the Arthur Ashe stadium booking 1 month in advance through ticketmaster. Tickets were collection upon arrival, there was no queue, however the entrance is a long walk (around 15 minutes from the metro). You must take your passport, credit card and have the reservation number or they will not allow entrance. As you can see below there are a number of options to suit all budgets (£1 = $1.81)
2006 Individual Ticket Prices
Arthur Ashe Stadium Promenade
Upper Promenade Lower Promenade
Day Evening Day Evening
Mon 8/28 $48 $22 $58 $38
Tues 8/29 $48 $22 $58 $38
Wed 8/30 $48 $22 $58 $38
Thurs 8/31 $54 $34 $64 $44
Fri 9/1 $56 $36 $64 $44
Sat 9/2 $56 $36 $64 $44
Sun 9/3 $56 $36 $64 $44
Mon 9/4 $56 $34 $64 $44
Tues 9/5 $46 $49 $64 $70
Wed 9/6 $46 $59 $64 $78
Thurs 9/7 $46 $59 $64 $78
Fri 9/8 $75 N/A $95 N/A
Sat 9/9 $79 $79 $98 $98
Sun 9/10 $79 N/A $98 N/A
All seats (unless otherwise specified) are reserved for Arthur Ashe Stadium with general admission to Louis Armstrong, Grandstand and field courts based on availability.
2006 Individual Ticket Prices
Louis Armstrong Stadium
Mon - Wed 8/28 8/30 $115 $82
Thurs- Tues 8/31 9/5 $130 $95
Reserved tickets for Louis Armstrong Stadium are only sold for the first nine (9) day sessions. A reserved ticket guarantees you a seat in Louis Armstrong Stadium and allows admission to Grandstand and field courts based on availability. A reserved Louis Armstrong ticket does not allow entrance into Arthur Ashe Stadium.
2006 Individual Ticket Prices
Mon Wed 8/28 - 8/30 $44
Thurs Mon 8/31 - 9/4 $48
All Day matches begin at 11:00 AM & Evening matches begin at 7:00 PM EXCEPT the Sunday, September 10th match, which begins at 12:00 NOON
*** Security ***
Following the recent terrorist threats, safety is taken very seriously at US Open. My friend was not allowed to take his rucksack in with him because it was too large, and was forced to pay to leave it behind at the entrance. We had to scramble around for carrier bags so he could take his belongings in! Our bags were also searched upon entry. Here is what not to take;
1. There will be a limit of one bag per person admitted onto the grounds.
2. All bags are subject to search, must be a single compartment and not be larger than 12"Wx12"Hx16"L.
3. There will be no bag storage on the grounds. For a nominal charge, there is a bag check facility outside the grounds.
4. Prohibited items:
 sealed packages of any kind;
 knapsacks/backpacks (of any kind or size);
 hard coolers or like containers;
 glass bottles or cans;
 aerosol cans or noisemaking devices;
 alcoholic beverages;
 commercial video cameras or recording devices;
 computers or laptops;
 food (except in limited quantities, or for medical, dietary or infant purposes);
 weapons (regardless of permit);
 pets (unless a service animal);
 banners or signs;
 laser pointing devices;
 tennis racquets;
 bicycles; scooters of any type; in-line skates; roller skates; skateboards;
*** Prize money ***
As I mentioned previously, it is the largest prize in a grand slam event. This years prize money is as follows;
Singles (Men & Women)
Base Prize Money
Potential Payout with Bonus Prize Money
Winners $ 1,200,000 $ 2,200,000
Runners-Up 600,000 1,100,000
I may go pro with those payouts!
We had a fantastic day! The tickets are reasonably priced considering how much tennis you can actually see, the grounds were amazing and there is much more to offer than tennis. The only downside was the expensive food and drink, and lack of shade around the courts. Im so glad I took factor 30 as I would have frazzled! The evening matches are certainly a good idea! All in all if you are in New York in September, go, watch a tennis match, you will not be disappointed!
The idea that cruising is for snotty rich toffs who play bridge and eat with the captain has long gone.
Cruises are back with a bang; around 940,000 Brits took a cruise in 2002 - compared with fewer than 300,000 ten years ago, making cruises the fastest growing sector of the holiday industry. And why not? Cruises are my favourite type of holiday. You wake up in a different location every morning, without actually going anywhere! Plus a cruise makes a great family holiday - somewhere the whole family can spend time together while having the freedom to pursue their individual on-board interests.
But with the increase in the number of cruises on offer, how do you decide which is right for you?
***Choosing your destination ***
To make the most of your cruise, you need to do your homework. Put plenty of thought into where you want to go, and what you can do there. For example, if you are interested in snorkeling activities, the Eastern Caribbean (Bahamas, St Thomas) offers more than the Western Caribbean. And if you want to avoid hurricanes, August and September are the months to miss when going to the Caribbean.
The Mediterranean and the Caribbean are still the destinations of choice for many British cruisers. I have been to both and loved them both. Most ships in Europe depart from Palma Mallorca and head to Barcelona, Cadiz, Seville, Villefranche (Rome), Venice, Naples and Monaco. Plan what you want to do in advance to ensure you make the most of your time onshore.
The Caribbean is the busiest place for cruise ships in the world, with most itineraries being divided into Eastern, Western, and Southern Caribbean. Cruises normally start at Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral or Tampa and head to Nassau in the Bahamas, St Thomas, St Martin, and San Juan for the Eastern Caribbean (the idyllic beach-stop cruise). For the Western Caribbean youll head to Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios in Jamaica, for those who fancy climbing the Dunns River Falls and tax-free shopping.
But you can also cruise to Alaska which is becoming increasingly popular for whale watching (my aunt is going next June, Im so jealous!) or even Antarctica! The wonderful seascapes, extraordinary glaciers and fabulous wildlife (penguins, elephant seals, killer whales etc) are only accessible on a cruise ship, making this southern extremity a popular route.
If you don't fancy the open sea, there are always river cruises - trips down the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, the Elbe, the Seine, the Rhône, the Elbe and the Po. These days you can even cruise the Yangtse in China.
With so many cruise ships around, its worth doing your research to ensure youre making the right choice. Firstly, think about price. What company is in your range? Do you want informal or luxury?
-Expensive- (£800+ per person)
-Moderate- (£500-800 per person)
Secondly, do you want you to partake in lots of activities? What do you want to do onboard? Ship standards vary. But even a cruise at the bottom end of the market is likely to have better facilities and more entertainment on offer than a three-star hotel in the Med.
Today's cruise ships, especially the big super-ships, have a huge variety of facilities for sport and entertainment: skating rinks, rock-climbing walls, all manner of fun pools and spa rooms, theatres, cinemas and gyms. You certainly wont be bored! (For on board activities on Royal Caribbean and Ocean Village see my other reviews) There is certainly plenty of fun on offer - but you are under no compulsion to join in. It's your choice. Of course you can always sit by the pool, a margarita in tow, watching the world sail by (excuse the pun!).
***Selecting your cabin***
Study the ships deck plan. If the room is located above, below or next to "white spaces" that are not identified, query your travel agent, who can talk to the cruise line if necessary. Finally, the on-line cruise forums found on the Internet can be excellent sources of unbiased information on specific ships and cabins.
The first obvious decision is "inside or outside." This is largely a matter of personal preference. Arguments for an inside cabin are about economy. If you do opt for an outside cabin, make sure the view is not obstructed by lifeboats, outside decks or other shipboard eyesores. Most ship deck plans will indicate obviously obstructed views, and the rates should reflect this. Or if you really want to splash out, go for a balcony. On Royal Caribbean look for the Balconys located near the back of the ship as they are double the space for the same price!
OK, you've decided inside, outside or balcony. Now, you have to decide on which deck the room should be.
Lower decks are usually less desirable because of their distance to the upper decks where most of the action is. This means waits for elevators and extra time required to carry about your daily routines. Then again its great exercise for all those pounds youve probably piled on! Another disadvantage of lower decks is noise. Noise is one of the biggest complaints veteran cruisers have about their rooms, and it can come from a variety of sources. On the lower decks, engine noise, motor vibration, bow thrusters and crew traffic are common problems. On higher decks, noise can be a problem in cabins located beneath galleys, under jogging tracks or gymnasiums and above casinos or discos.
Fortunately, newer ships have greatly improved their room soundproofing. Royal Caribbean's new Vision-class ships have much improved soundproofing between rooms, passageways and decks. It may be that noise doesn't bother you, (or you are a party animal who generates noise) but seasickness is a problem. Conventional wisdom says that rooms on the lowest deck closest to the center of the ship are subject to the least motion. Most ships have effective stabilizers that limit a ship's rolling but have little effect on the ship's pitching. Therefore, a central location on the ship is probably more significant than a lower deck in minimizing the effects of motion.
***Booking your cruise***
There are a number of travel agencies who now deal solely in cruises. Deals are everywhere, so the best piece of advice is to look around. Teletext is great for picking up phone numbers of cruise angencies. What I do is ensure I know what ship I want, and the date and get a quote from one agency, then phone another to see if they can price match. Not only did I get the price lowered for one cruise, but I got upgraded as well!
Here are some companies to get you going
* Cruise Direct www.cruisedirect.co.uk
* Fast Track Cruises wwww.fastrackholidays.co.uk
* Cruise 1st www.cruise1st.co.uk
* D Cruise Shop www.dcruiseshop.co.uk
If however you know exactly which cruise line you wish to travel with, on which ship - perhaps you even know the cabin number you want - it could make sense to deal with the cruise company direct (Royal Caribbean for example offer substantial discounts to repeat passengers who book direct).
***What to pack***
A fantastic packing list for cruises is avaliable at http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/entropym/pages/packing_list.htm
But heres a general list of things you might forget;
*Sea sickness pills (you never know how rough the water will be)
*Film for your camera (expensive on board)
*Even when going to hot places, take a jumper because the air-conditioning can leave you feeling cold
*Smart eveningwear is required for formal dining on most ships. But only if you want to eat in the Dinning room, you can eat elsewhere if you dont want to dress up.
*In the event your clothes require TLC, some ships have complementary self-service laundries for passengers wishing to wash and iron on your own. If you're sailing on one that does (such as the Universe, Sagafjord, and Royal Princess), pack fewer items. Self-service laundries are a handy feature, especially when you consider that travel irons are verboten on most ships (they're electrical fire hazards) and shipboard laundry services customarily charge upwards of three bucks just to wash a pair of socks.
* Bring a pair of rubber-soled walking shoes for slippery decks and dusty shore excursions.
If you depart and arrive from a UK port then in theory you can take as much luggage as you like.
While cabins are much more spacious than you might imagine, with lots of drawers and cupboards, you won't have room for more than a couple of suitcases' worth of clothes and other possessions.
*On larger ships, parents worry about keeping track of their kids. Keep up with family members by using two way radios, Ive seen lots of families using them!
*Book excursions before you go in particular the popular ones as these sell out fast.
*First Seating or second seating dinner? The formal cruises have two sittings for dinner (some apply this policy for other meals too). At dinnertime you either eat first and then see the evening show - or see the show and then eat. Most people seem to prefer to go for the second sitting (it probably seems more grown up). But ultimately it doesn't make a huge amount of difference. If you don't get the sitting you want, see the restaurant manager when you board. A good tip will get you a nice place!
* When budgeting for your cruise dont forget to include on board drinks (given that these will normally be duty-free, they should be cheaper than normal); shore excursions and items bought ashore; health and beauty treatments on board; sending or receiving email; gambling at the casino; photographs; laundry and tips. These can often boost the cost of your cruise up considerably. You can settle your bill with your credit card, but you will need local currency if you plan to spend money on port visits.
And finally, enjoy your cruise, after all that planning you deserve it!
I found myself in need of a cheap flight to Mallorca in June, but most airlines were charging in excess of £150, which was way out of my budget. Then I came across Iberia airlines
.theyve had some bad press in the past and doubts ran through my mind, but it was the cheapest, and so I followed my wallet
*** The company ***
Iberia have been operating commercial flights since 1927, they have flown more than 600 million passengers, making Iberia not only Spains leading airline but also market leader on routes between Europe and Latin America. Iberia operates in over onehundred destinations, while reaching more than 80 additional ones through code-sharing arrangements with other airlines. This places Iberia in the front rank of European airlines, with 32.4 million passengers carried in 2005 and a net profit of 395.8 million euros. (£250million)
*** Booking ***
I booked through Iberias own website www.iberia.es.The process was extremely easy, I was able to select which flights I wanted from the several that were available, and was able to see the prices for the various times of day. I believe there were roughly 5 flights available that day. If booking with Iberia to Palma there are no direct flights, hence why so cheap! I opted for a 2 hour stopover in Barcelona leaving at 7am, getting into Palma at 1.30pm, and returning at 11.20am, getting home for 3.30pm all for £80 each. Flights can be cheaper depending on how far in advance you book. The flight to Barcelona is roughly 2 hours, and then an additional 30 mins to Palma. So for an extra 2/3 hours Im saving £80, well worth it! I booked up promptly, (no problems here, the standard booking form you would expect with full payment on a debit/credit card) and printed out my E ticket.
*** Check-In ***
Iberia offer online check in 24 hours prior to flying, saving you from huge queues at the check in desk, and allowing you to reserve your seat. However, as we were on a connecting flight (flights starting with 7) this would not allow us to check in. Damn! An early wake up call it was! On arrival at Heathrow terminal 2 I was a little confused as there was no Iberia check in desk. Appearing bemused, I asked a BA air steward where we might find the desk, and the helpful gentleman explained that it was a BA flight number, and that BA and Iberia are both part of the Oneworld Alliance, partnering each other. Great! We would actually get some food and drink for free! So I headed to the BA desk (there were several, and it was very confusing) with my e-ticket, to find a queue of 10 people already. We were checked in within 10 minutes. The staff were particularly friendly, making polite conversation unexpected as it was 5am! The attendant reserved our seats for the BA flight and the connecting flight, also ensuring that we would not have to collect our luggage, then re-check in. Overall I was very impressed.
*** Departure/Boarding ***
Boarding the BA leg of the journey was not a problem going out. Boarding commenced around 30 minutes before departure, on the way down to the plane we had a choice of papers. Coming back, at 1.30pm (our boarding time) there plane had yet to arrive we were still sat in the departure lounge twiddling our thumbs. 15 minutes later there was an announcement, your flight will be delayed Oh really! An hour later we were on the plane waiting to take off, and managed to recover some of the time in the air. Not too much damage done.
Upon disembarking in Barcelona going out, we trotted down the gateway into the arrivals terminal with a refreshing breeze of aircon. A huge queue emerged and only 1 person checking passports. I really don't know why they bother to show up because as we walked thorough, the guy didn't bother to look up from reading his magazine! I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing! We made a left and carried on walking through the gates trying to locate where our connecting flight would be as the gate was not printed on the ticket. This is a negative point to the whole Iberia experience lack of communication about what or where were supposed to go!
10 minutes of walking later, we located an Iberia desk, and the assistant happily directed us to the correct gate. After an hour browsing the plentiful of shops in the airport waiting for our connecting flight, the Iberia boarding experience was similar going out 20 minutes before departure (I was getting a little worried, but Spaniards are notorious for taking their time!) we finally boarded, and was in the sky right on time.
*** The Flight ***
I wont bother talking about the BA flight as it doesnt really count does it?
Our plane was a MD 87 (a very compact plane) with the recognisable orange/red logo. Inside was a little tatty, the seats worn. Seats were positioned in rows of 2, with around 8 seats devoted to business class (the only difference being wider seats by what I could see) I was also impressed by the decent amount of legroom. As the flight was only ½ hour, there was no in-flight entertainment. This was not a problem for me; I read a book, whilst the other half played his precious PSP. If you forget to provide your own entertainment, Iberia provide several newspapers ..albeit in Spanish! The cabin crew come round with a trolly full of papers before take off, and made the necessary checks before the safety demonstration. They looked very bored, but then with this short internal flights they probably have to do this several times a day! Once in the air you never saw them unless attending to a specific person. Both take off and landing was as smooth as I have experienced, with the Captain updating the flights progress several time. We landed on time, the flight taking a total of 35 minutes. The only problem was we sat waiting on the plane for a further 15 minutes as the door was jammed! However as we used a national, rather than international flight, we were able to bi-pass immigration and head straight to the luggage carosel where our bags were waiting.
*** Where do Iberia fly? ***
As I mentioned earlier, Iberia operates in over one hundred destinations, while reaching more than 80 additional ones through code-sharing arrangements with other airlines. Check out the Iberia website which lists all of the available destinations, and times of the flights.
Iberia applies a certain luggage allowance, either by weight or by pieces, depending on the origin and destination of your flight, in particular if you have a connecting flight. This allowance will the same for outbound and return travel and will be determined by the country of origin of the journey. If this weight is exceeded, a financial penalty must be paid depending on the destination you are travelling to and the number of kilos in excess of the allowance. As a general rule, the allowance for adults, will depend on the passenger class for your ticket.
40 kg. (88 lb.) in Business Plus Service.
30 Kg. (66 lb.) in Business Service. .
20 Kg. (44 lb.) on Tourist/Economy Class services
For our flight, Iberia allowed a maximum of 20kgs of luggage, and 1 piece of hand luggage up to 5kgs (this was not weighed) As I mentioned earlier, we received our luggage from the carousel without waiting, there luggage was in good condition, and there had been no tampering
*** Contact information ***
Iberia website: www.iberia.es
*** Summary ***
When booking with Iberia, I was initially worried due to the bad press I had previously heard. And upon arriving at Heathrow, to find no check in area for Iberia panic set in! However, check in was swift, the flight was pleasant; all in all, I got what I paid for. The only criticism of Iberia is lack of communication. Customers like myself arent always aware where to go, or what to do, particularly in non-English speaking countries! So however boring it may be to keep repeating information, it is essential in order to keep the passengers coming back!
Having just spent a lovely week in the Mallorca, I thought I'd better put my experience to good use in a review of Barcelona airport. No, you didnt read wrong! I actually got an in direct flight after deciding to spend a couple days in Barcelona first!
For some, airports are just a thorn in their side, a mere obstacle in getting from A to B. They hate the thought of waiting around for their flight, or the queues of checking in, baggage hassles. It can be very stressful. For me however, I still get incredibly excited about the 'airport' leg of my journey, the shopping, and the excitement about getting on the plane. It's a huge part of the overall holiday experience.
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, situated on the south coast. It is becoming a huge tourist destination, in particular as Mediterranean cruises become more popular. I booked our flight independently with Iberia for £80 each return. We flew with BA outwards, and then caught an Iberia plane to Mallorca. It was the cheapest option and a bargain for June!
The airport itself consists of three terminals named A, B and C. From what I could make out terminal A is for long haul and European destinations, terminal B for EU flights and Terminal C for domestic services although I caught a domestic flight with Iberia from terminal B. All of the terminals are interlocked, and if you need to get from one to another (if realising you were in the wrong gate like us) it is a long walk! But let me start from the beginning .
A R R I V A L
As soon as we touched down I had butterflies in my stomach. The sun was shining, and I couldn't wait to start sight seeingl! Luckily, within 5 minutes of parking up, the little trucks were rushing around to offload the baggage, and the doors were open for us to get going. I was very impressed!
So off we trotted down the gateway into the arrivals terminal with a refreshing breeze of aircon. A huge queue emerged and only 1 person checking passports. I really don't know why they bother to show up because as we walked thorough, the guy didn't bother to look up from reading his magazine! I don't know whether that's a good or bad thing!
Once through passport control, you either turn right to baggage reclaim, or left to other terminals for interconnecting flights. It is very well sign posted in French, Spanish and English, and around a 10 minute walk. It was very efficient (probably due to the long walk!) We were the first to arrive from our flight and had already been assigned a conveyor belt. Luckily it wasn't too chaotic. There is no charge/deposit for trolleys and they are plentiful. They can be picked up just before the first conveyor belt so it was very easy to find a trolley while my other half picked his perfect spot for grabbing the cases!
Within 5 minutes of waiting, luggage was whizzing round, and 5 minutes on we had both pieces of our luggage and were heading for the shuttle, which is a short walk from the baggage reclaim. Barcelona has a very good transportation system from the airport. If youre on a budget, it is easy to catch the shuttle (located outside each of the terminals clearly signposted) to/from the airport. A single journey is around 3 Euros (£2) for a 30 minute journey. Alternatively a taxi is around 30 euros (£20) to town.
D E P A R T U R E
-+-+-Check in and landside-+-+-
After a fabulous few days it was time to go to Mallorca! The trolleys were plentiful, and conveniently located directly opposite where the shuttle parked. The check in area itself is reasonably sized and easy to navigate which area is yours. The staff didn't seem to care that my hand luggage was 1kg over limit. So we had 1 hour to look around, as you have to be at the gate 1 hour prior to departure (bearing in mind it can take 15 minutes to walk there also). Not much to do here so we went straight through to airside
-+-+-Security & Departure Gate-+-+-
Once you've done your shopping, it's time to make your way to the gate. The number of your gate is printed on the boarding ticket, and there are screens around the terminal to say when the plane is boarding. It is best to leave around 15 minutes to get to the gate, as it is a very long walk (especially as we were one of the furthest away!) As I mentioned earlier, security seems to be lacking in substance. However, when going through the gate, all the necessary checks took place; bags through the machine, and then through the metal detector device. As there were only a few guards on hand, there was a small queue of around 5 minutes, which moved very quickly.
Once at the gate there is a sufficient seating area, which was very useful as due to check-in opening late, the flight departed 30 minutes late. The lounge is airy and open spaced with plenty of comfortable seats if you want to relax.
Between the departure gate and check-in is the shopping area. There are TONS of shops including Zara, a chocolate shop, lots of duty free outlets, music, books, newsagents, wine & food, Etam. I could have spent hours here! The duty free was very reasonable. It has the usual perfume makeup, wine and spirits. Plus it had the usual sweets, Tolblerone, and even olives! I stocked up on some olives (75p for a jar) and chocolate as these are my two vices in life. You need your boarding card to purchase goods (even chocolate and olives!)
-+-+-Food and Drink-+-+-
Once you've checked-in and stocked up on duty free, it's time to grab a drink and a bite to eat. There's a huge choice of places to eat anything from a sandwich shop to burger places. The baguettes were around 3.50 Euro (£2) and the drinks, which are quite reasonably, priced at 1.20 -3 Euro. (£1-£2)
-+-+-Décor & Cleanliness-+-+-
The airport itself was spotless, with plenty of toilets with baby changing areas scattered around. It is bright and airy, but what more can you say about an airport?!
I was extremely impressed with the airport and its facilities it is clean, spacious and runs smoothly. The décor is OK, very clean and simple, and there is a light, airy feel about the building. There are excellent shopping and restaurant facilities, and plenty of toilets dotted around. Definitely one of the best airports Ive been to!
-+-+-Airlines that fly to Barcelona-+-+-
Ryan Air www.ryanair.co.uk
BMI Baby www.bmibaby.com
Easy Jet www.easyjet.com
British Airways www.ba.com
*** Additional information ***
For a weekend break my boyfriend and I wanted to go to a un-tourist place in Spain, with lots to do and see to keep us entertained. So we decided to visit the up and coming Valencia. And what a trip it was!
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, with a population of around 800,000 people and is the Capital of the region of Valencia. It is situated in the centre of the Spanish Mediterranean coastline, which overlooks the spacious Gulf of Valencia. Famous for being the home of Paella, the spectacular Fallas festival housing the largest Aquarium in Europe, and one of the largest fruit and vegetable markets its not hard to see why Valencia is becoming so popular.
*** How to get there ***
Valencia is easily accessible from many cities in the UK by plane. We travelled with BA from Gatwick outwards to the Valencia international airport and Easyjet to Stanstead on the return leg. The airport is located roughly 8-10km from the city centre. Cabs are readily available at a cost of between 15-20 Euro.
*** Weather ***
Valencia enjoys a Mediterranean climate. We visited in March 2006 during the incredible Fallas festival. At this time there was a mini heatwave with temperatures soaring to 26 degrees! You can imagine then that July & August are the hottest months, therefore if on a sightseeing break, May June or September would be best to avoid heat stroke walking around the city!
*** Accommodation ***
I like to get the feel of living in the city Im visiting so to speak, and so prefer to stay in apartment, which also reduces the costs of eating out. We stayed in a private apartment, in one of the backstreets 10 minutes walk to the Bullring, which cost 200 Euro for 4 nights http://www.valenicangems.com Georgina was lovely, and the apartment has more than enough room for 4 people, an absolute bargain! The most popular places to stay are around the Cathedral and town centre or by the beach in the summer. Wherever you stay, the attractions can be easily reached by bus (0.80 Euro) or metro (1.20 Euro per single journey).
*** Festivals Las Fallas ***
As if the beach and beautiful buildings were not enough to draw you to Valencia, there are also numerous festivals throughout the year. Las Fallas is undoubtedly one of the most unique and crazy festivals. What started as a feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, has evolved into a 5-day, multifaceted celebration of fire. The town swells to three million as tourists flock to the city between the 12th and 19th March. The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of ninots--huge cardboard, wood and plaster statues--that are placed at over 350 key intersections and parks around the city today. The ninots are extremely lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events (This year they had Posh and Becks as one!) They are crafted by neighbourhood organisations and take about six months to construct costing up to 50,000 pounds! Many ninots are several stories tall and need to be moved into position with cranes. During the 12-19th March, these are all put into place, and during the evenings revellers hit the brightly lit streets for parties and flame throwing. On the 19th at the stroke of midnight, the ninots are set alight! How neighbouring buildings are not set alight I dont know! And each year, one of the ninots is spared from destruction by popular vote and exhibited in the local Museum of the Ninot along with the other favourites from years past.
During the days leading up the 19th, you can check out the extensive roster of bullfights, parades, paella contests and beauty pageants around the city. Spontaneous fireworks displays occur everywhere during the days leading up to "La Crema", but another highlight is the daily mascletá which occurs in the Plaza Anyuntamiento at exactly 2pm. When the huge pile of firecrackers is ignited, the ground literally shakes for the next ten minutes. On the first day we visited there were over 200,000 lined shoulder to shoulder in the street, its like one big party in but almost like being in a warzone! What I didnt like were kids as young as 3 letting off fireworks in their hands, aiming them at passers by.
*** Beaches ***
The main promenade in Valencia city is in the Malvarrosa district. There are long sandy beaches popular with the locals, and seafront tapas bars and restaurants famous for paella. If you are staying in the city centre, you can easily reach Malvarrosa by bus or metro. Take bus number 1 or 2 from the bus station or number 19 from the main town hall square.
Another lovely, unspoilt beach is El Saler, only 30 mins away by bus. We did not visit this area as we did not have time.
*** Shopping ***
If you are a serious shopper like me, head to the mall which is located opposite the LOceangrafic. Its brand new and houses Zara, Mango, Game, a huge supermarket (good for stocking up on wines to take back!) and even an C&A! Well worth a visit, you will be there all day mind you! If you havent got enough time, then there are various Zara and Mango stalls located all around the centre, and there are plenty of souvenir shops and department stores, including El Cortes Anglais, the Spanish Debenhams/Selfridges. There are 4 different branches each specialising in either clothes, music, home, or food products all within 1 mile of each other. There is also the fruit and veg market which is phenomenal. Over 150 stalls, consisting of fish, fruit, veg, meat. I could have spent a fortune if I was living here! A word of warning, the smell of fresh fish was very overwhelming!
*** The Cathedral ***
Walking around Valencia you will find my beautiful traditional and modern buildings. The most attractive is the catherdral. It is a 13th Century building that claims to be the home of the Holy Grail. Although open every day it closes at 1pm for siesta. You can have restricted access for free, otherwise to see the whole catherdral you have to pay 10 euros for a guided tour. We opted for the free access due the lack of time. We were not disappointed! We were greeted by an immense feeling calmness. Walking around we observed the enchanting stained glass windows, and took notice of the services in place 1 lady was praying at the feet of a priest sobbing, whilst trying not to notice, it wasnt hard to be moved by the whole experience.
The most fascinating part of the cathedral is the Miguelete the bell tower. It costs 2 euros to walk up the 200 + narrow spiral stairs (its not for the faint hearted or the unfit!) but it is more than worth it. At the top of the bell tower are the most amazing 360-degree views of the city, including the Aquarium, and even the football stadium! Be warned the bell still works and if you are under the bell as it chimes on the hour, youll certainly ask friends and family to speak up when talking to you! After the long walk down, relax at one of the many cafes for some tapas in the sun in the Plaza de La Reina, my legs ached for days afterwards!
*** Museums ***
If you like museums youll love Valencia. There are far to many to name here, but IVAM (Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno) is very interesting. It displays 20th-century art. Its programme of activities includes permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, conferences, courses, workshops and the publishing of works. It includes the Julio González Centre, opened in 1989, and the Sala de la Muralla (Wall Room), in the basement of the front building, with remains of the city's old medieval fort, inaugurated in 1991. The IVAM is attached to the Department of Culture and Education of the Autonomous Government of Valencia. A more traditional museum is the Cathedral Diocesan Museum. It contains two large canvases by Francisco de Goya, painted in 1799, of Saint Francis of Borja taking leave of his family and attending a dying man.
There are paintings by Rodrigo de Osona, Yáñez de la Almedina, Vicente Masip and Juan de Juanes, etc. (15th-16th centuries).
*** The Aquarium ***
The biggest in Europe, this attraction is certainly worth a visit, but be prepared to pay! 23 Euro per adult, and 15 Euro for Children. In my opinion this is overpriced as everything can easily be seen in 2 ½ hours. The aquarium houses every fish imaginable, including a whale! With lots of interactive ingredients to keep the kids happy. It also has several shark tunnels, the longest I have ever seen, you really get the feeling you are swimming along with them. The biggest attraction is the shows, the dolphin being the most popular. It is like being at Seaworld, with Dolphins participating in tricks for food. However, the tricks are not that amazing, and the show is over in 20mins. We actually found the aquarium very hard to find (about 30 mins walk from the centre it looked closer on the map!) so be sure to get a bus (number 95 if my memory is correct)
*** Food and drink ***
The Valencian paella, made with rice, chicken, rabbit and greens, is the typical dish in Valencian gastronomy. Each village has its own variations and preferences because rice mixes well with so many different ingredients. However, the most popular specialities are the meat paella (with chicken or rabbit), the seafood paella and the mixed one. Restaurants were reasonable, but expensive in comparison with the likes of Mallorca (15 Euro for main meals) Most are packed after 9pm when the locals eat, and when the wine starts flowing, the party really gets started!
*** Nightlife ***
The province of Valencia is famous for its bars and clubs, where the music plays until dawn. They are situated on the outskirts of the city and on the Valencia - Cullera road, crossing numerous residential estates and beaches. A lot of bars and clubs are situated in 'Calle Juan Llorens'. Friday's and Saturday's are naturally the busiest days. If you want to remain in the city centre, we walked around the backstreets of the main square where there were lots of restaurants and tapas bars to sit and watch the world go by. During out visit, the locals were out every night wandering the streets viewing the ninots for the festival. Parties accompanied this and when staying in the city be prepared not to sleep during this time!
*** Summary ***
I had an amazing time in Valencia and Im heading back there in September! There is something for everyone from shopping to nightlife, to the glorious museums and spectacular festivals. The food is glorious, do not miss the paella, and the people are friendly and fascinating. 4 days is not enough to see everything but it gives you a taste of what this city is all about timeless Catalonian traditions in a modern Spanish culture. Go now before the rest of the world discovers it!
I was very hesitant about booking with Easyjet, I have heard many bad experiences from friends, and seen the horror stories of long delays on the TV show! However, when taking a short break to Valencia recently, I needed a cheap flight and Easyjet was my first port of call. I compared the cost with Ryanair and BA and whilst BA was cheapest for outbound flights, (£33) Easyjet was cheapest for return (£17) I considered it an absolute bargain and even if the flight went horribly wrong, it was only £17!
*** The Company ***
Founded by Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 1995, Easyjet has revolutionised European travel, making air travel cheap, and convienient. In such a short space of time, Easyjet has quickly become the nations favourite no frills airline. It has also been the star of ITVs Airline, and Stelios has extended the Easy brand into car hire, internet access, and even cruises!
*** How to book ***
One of the reasons Easyjet can offer cheap rates is that it doesnt have any overhead costs. Therefore, you can only book by phone or save £5 and book on the internet. I decided to book the flight in my lunch hour, and it really is dead simple; visit www.easyjet.com and you are greeted with the rather unattractive orange colour scheme readily associated with the Easy brand. You then click on the flights page and will see all of the latest special offers. If you know when and where you want to go, select the airport you wish to depart from (I find the any London airports box handy as it displays both Stanstead and Gatwick prices meaning I can pick the cheapest) and your destination, dates, and number of people and within seconds the available flight times and prices will appear. Note that prices for outbound and return flights are listed separately. If you have flexibility with dates, the days either side of the date selected will also appear therefore if on a budget you can select which is most appropriate.
If you wish to go ahead, select the flight from the outbound list by clicking the circle, and the same for the return flight (you can select one-way options) and then proceed. A screen with the total costs of flights including taxes will appear. Note that Easyjet automatically add insurance costing £8.50, and if you do not want this, you must deselect it before continuing. When you are happy with your selection, it is time to pay!
If you have not registered, you will be asked to create a user name and password, which will be emailed to you. If you are an existing member, you must login. You then enter the details of all passengers and then payment details. EasyJet accept Delta, Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club. Switch is also acceptable (for pound Sterling transactions only).
You will then receive a confirmation message with your flight details. As EasyJet operate a 'no-ticket' policy, you must print out the confirmation email, or make note of the reference number, which you should take to check in. For flying outside of the UK your passport is required, and for domestic flights, photographic identify (drivers license or passport) is necessary.
So there you go! The booking process takes about 10 minutes, and is easy to follow, quick to load. Plus the website is available in seven languages including English, Spanish, French and Italian.
*** Why so cheap? ***
As I mentioned earlier, Easyjet are a no-frills airline, therefore overhead costs such as paper tickets, meals on planes, high-street shops are ditched. If you wish to eat or drink on the flight, a trolley is wheeled around and you can purchase a hot meal, sandwich, or a drink for a reasonable cost (£1.50 - £5.00). The turnaround is also very quick, cutting down on the number of planes in use. For example, the poor cabin crew only had 8 minutes to turn our plane around on landing in Stanstead, before whizzing off to another location. Easyjet also do not allocate seats prior to travel, and claim this cuts back on costs (not quite sure how though!) As with other flights, the earlier you book, the cheaper the flight should be.
There are disadvantages when travelling with no-frills airlines. Flight times are usually the worst, flight lengths are usually longer (2 ½ hours coming back from Valencia to 1 ½ hours going out!) as the airspace route awarded is usually the longest. Flights usually delayed due to unrealistic journey times, (our flight was delayed for 5-10 minutes).
~~ MY FLIGHT ~~
*** Check in ***
After a lovely trip to Valencia, I was not looking forward to my trip home. I was on flight 3842 leaving at 7pm for Stanstead. Easyjet request that you check-in at least 40 minutes before your flight is due to depart, or you wont be flying and will not get a refund. Judging from the television show, Easyjet will try to fit you onto the next available flight if possible. I arrived at the airport with my confirmation sheet 2 and ½ hours prior to departure to find a queue of 10 people already. At 5pm, two desks opened, and within 15 minutes, I was checked in and ready to go. The crew was friendly and slightly robotic, as you would expect when having to ask the same questions hundreds of times a day! They asked all of the usual security questions, ("has someone asked you to pack anything? Have your bags been left unattended) and then presented us with a boarding card. Very easy!
At the X-ray point going into the departure lounge, my boyfriends bag was checked and he was clumsy enough to leave a pocket travel set with a knife in his bag. The Spanish staff said he could either chuck it away or go back to check in and leave his bag unlocked (with PSP, CD player, and Little Britain Top trump cards!) to go on with the rest of the luggage. So we trotted back to check in where the staff taped the bag together (minus his beloved PSP!) and let it go through with the rest of the baggage. They were surprisingly understanding.
*** Departure ***
After an hour browsing the two shops in the airport, it was time for boarding, however, there was no plane. At 6.20pm (our boarding time) the plane finally landed and we were still sat in the departure lounge. To my surprise, at 6.25pm we were called to start boarding. As seats are unreserved, they are on a first come first served basis. To avoid chaos, Easyjet call you in groups, the earlier you check in, the earlier you will start boarding. We were in group A, the earliest, and once called, stood waiting in the tunnel to board the bus towards the plane. After 10 minutes we boarded the bus, there was a rush to the plane to ensure people were sat with friends, or secured window seats. After the usual demonstrations and safety check, which again, the poor staff looked like it was the 10th time they done this in a day, we were up in the air, 7.05pm, 5 minutes late. The plane was turned around in roughly 25 minutes!
*** The Flight ***
Our plane was a Boeing 737, with the recognisable Easyjet orange logo. Inside was fine. Orange and grey décor, with the flight attendants sporting the same motif in rather casual attire. A few friends have commented that the seats were dirty on their flight, but I had no such complaint. I was also impressed by the decent amount of legroom. As the flight was only 2 ½ hours, there was no in-flight entertainment. This was not a problem for me; I read a book, whilst the other half played his precious PSP. If you forget to provide your own entertainment, Easyjet provide a free magazine boasting every service that Easyjet has to offer! Both take off and landing was as smooth as I have experienced, with the Captain updating the flights progress several time. We had even made up the time and landed 5minutes early! When we entered the terminal at Stanstead, our bags were waiting on the carousel and we were on our way home, all within 20 minutes of landing, the fastest I have ever experienced!
*** Where do EasyJet fly? ***
Easyjet operate from several UK airports, including;
You can choose from 268 routes between 76 European airports across the UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, and Portugal. However, although Easyjet fly from numerous airports, the destinations depend on the airports. For example, you can only fly to Valencia from London Stanstead or London Gatwick.
Easyjet allowed a maximum of 20kgs of luggage, and 1 piece of hand luggage up to 5kgs (this was not weighed and a sign was put up in Valencia to say that there was no limit on the weight of hand luggage which I found rather surprising, and annoying!). As I mentioned earlier, we received our luggage from the carousel without waiting, there luggage was in good condition, and there had been no tampering, even without a lock!
*** Other information ***
~ Children (under 18) who wish to travel without an adult must have written permission from a parent or guardian.
~ If you need to change a passenger name, you can do so for £10
~ All flights are no-smoking
*** Summary ***
Following my friends bad experiences, I was expecting the worst when booking a flight with Easyjet. However, the booking process was easy, the flight was a bargain so for what I would be paying for a two-hour flight I could not complain. And I couldnt! Check in was a breeze, the seats were comfortable with plenty of leg room and whilst the flight was slightly late taking off, we made up the time and landed smoothly, to find our luggage waiting on the carousel going through arrivals. Whilst they may not be my first choice for long haul flights, and are not 5 star luxury, I would most certainly fly with Easyjet again.
*** Contact details ***
EasyJet Airline Company Limited
London Luton Airport
Bedfordshire LU2 9LS
UK - 0871 7500100
Being the big kid that I am, I love teddies. Infact, I still have all of the stuffed animals I had when I was born! So you can imagine my delight at walking into the Hamley's store during the festive season a few years back and finding a factory full of bears! Yes, it is the unmistakable Bear Factory, which puts the fun back into buying stuffed toys! "It's just for kids" I can hear you scream, but you would be pleasantly surprised
*** The Store ***
The first Bear Factory opened inside Hamley's in London, and they are now nationwide available on most large high streets. It's not like Clintons, or other retailers where you buy a bear 'off the rack', The Bear Factory offers a truly unique experience in that you select the bear you want, fill it with stuffing, give it a heart and voice, and then dress it in pretty clothes!
The shop itself is easy to find with a huge blue logo on the outside. Inside a huge gold noisy machine dominates the store, this being the stuffing machine. In this area you will also find members of staff stitching the bears, and helping customers. The rest of the store has a modern feel with wood paneling, several shelves and racks filled with clothes and accessories for the bears.
~ Choosing a bear
The bears are located around the front area of the store in baskets. There's a large selection, including the traditional kind, and other animals such as monkey's and sheep. They measure roughly one foot from head to toe, and prices range from £9.99 onwards. You can even get baby bears for £4.99! Once you have chosen your new friend, you head to the stuffing machine (if you have just the skin) to bring him or her to life.
Before stuffing, you can add a voice box to your bear! They come in a bark, moo, meow, 'I Love you', etc or you can record your own voice with a message. I chose a moo just because I thought it was funny :) These are located next to the stuffing machine and cost £3.99.
This is the best bit! The machine is operated by a member of staff who stuffs the bear for your personal needs; firm, cuddly, or soft. I chose cuddly, and the stuffing proceeded! White bits of fibre starts pumping around a large pipe, which runs around the shop, and into the bear. The sales assistant then asks you to pick a silky heart, give it a kiss, make a wish, and then sows the bear up, ready for you to take home.
It's then time to give your bear a name! The friendly sales assistants direct you to a book of girls and boys names and make some suggestions if you're completely stuck, but more often than not you will most probably have a name already chosen. You then have to fill out a birth certificate which had mine and the bears name, and where your bear was born! My bear is called Carlos. He says hello to everyone!
It's about now that you'll realise your new bear is naked! So it's time to go shopping! As I mentioned earlier, it is just like a real clothes store with shorts, T-shirts, dresses, shoes, hats and even glasses! They are like babies clothes, maybe just a little smaller and each outfit will fit any bear. I have bought Carlos a dressing gown, a smart shirt, trousers, tie, bunny slippers, and a denim jacket. He's a funky bear! You can also buy the bears wedding/part outfits, even seasonal fancy dress such as a Santa Claus suit! The clothing varies in price but a full outfit can cost anything between £15 - £20 with accessories. I prefer to visit during the sale as you can purchase a t-shit for as little as £1.50. The clothes are of excellent quality, and can be machine-washed on a gentle cycle.
*** Payment process ***
So you have selected an entire new wardrobe for your bear, so now's the time to give the bank a shock and pay for it all. The sales assistant will offer you a pet carrier (it's not exactly Louis Vuitton, it's a cardboard box with a hole in the back and front to pop your bears' head through so they can breathe!) Cash, cheques and all major credit cards are accepted. You can also get a loyalty card, which is stamped with bear prints for every £10 you spend. When you fill the card you get a freebie!
*** A word of warning ***
They may look like the perfect gift for young children, however, Bear Factory do not recommend the bears for under threes. And if the bear itself becomes a little grubby, it is not recommendable to wash it at all. I've had my bear for 3 years and it is still as good as new!
*** Customer Service ***
I am a strong believer in good customer service, and I can honestly say that Bear Factory staff have some of the best customer service staff on the highstreet. Everytime I have been in the store there has always been a member of staff on hand to greet me, and ask if I need assistance in due course.
*** Bear Factory online ***
Although I strongly recommend buying a bear from the shop, you can avoid the Christmas rush by purchasing online. Although I have never done this myself, it looks very straightforward, with charges being £3.50 per bear if sent into Europe or £6.50 if sent abroad. There are many outfits to chose from, some of which may not be available in your local store.
*** Summary ***
Buying a bear from the Bear Factory is more than just buying a cuddly toy it is a complete interactive experience, made wonderful by the extremely helpful staff, where you select and create your own unique friend, by giving them a name, a voice, and some clothes. It is the perfect place to take a child and buy them a gift, or just to take yourself! While it can be expensive if you buy numerous outfits, I guarantee you will leave with a smile every time!
*** Contacts ***
Head Office Address:
2 Fouberts Place, Off Regent Street
Telephone: 020 7479 7393
Fax: 020 7479 7319
For your nearest store, please visit: www.bearfactory.co.uk
I was a late starter when it came to being completely hooked on Sex and the City, (my first ever episode was the last one!) so I brought the whole show, series 1-6 on DVD to see why its a girls best friend. After watching the first four series it is very easy to see why the show has won so many awards-I am completely hooked!
Taken from Candice Bushnell's novel of the same name, the show is based on the lives of four 30 something fabulous ladies native to New York City. Led by sex columnist Carrie, Its more than a sitcom about dating in NYC; it takes you on a fabulous journey, transporting you through a world of Manolo Blahniks and Cosmopolitans. Carrie and the gang sip on Cosmopolitans at the city's hottest clubs, share sexual episodes and flaunt their fabulous attire. The past four series have felt like a rollercoaster ride in terms of the girls relationships; countless have begun and died, no more so than that of Carrie and Big. Now that Big is divorced, living in San Francisco, and Carrie is single after splitting from Aiden series 5 had a lot to live up in the will they wont they saga
* Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker)
The central character; a newspaper columnist who has experienced it all in relationships, and puts it out there for the whole of NYC to read. Shes fabulous personified; smart, sexy, sophisticated, and she has 300 pairs of shoes! Not only do we go through her falling in and out of love with men, but we see her love affair with NYC.
* Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrell)
A PR queen in NY who is the female version of a man (if that makes sense!) She has a different guy every week, and is quite literally sex obsessed, and very open about it! You name it, shes done it, and thats why shes my favourite character! I think theres a small part of everyone who wishes they could be Samantha for the day!
* Charlotte Yorke (Kristen Davies)
A park avenue princess; well bred, and ultimately believes love should be a fairytale. Her life ambition is to get married and have kids. I quite like this character as it throws up conflicts with Samantha because they are complete opposites.
* Miranda Hobbs (Cynthia Nixon) A lawyer, and a character that develops the most out of the four. We see her grow from a frumpy-clothed strictly career-focused woman, to a foxy looking mother (and eventually wife). Unfortunately, she gets the worst story lines.
***The story so far***
Unfortunately, the fifth series has been the worst for me due to lack of quality in storylines, and the shortness of the series overall (twentysomething episodes to a mere 8!) However, due forces beyond HBOs control (the pregnancies of both Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon.) it is understandable that the shooting schedule was shortened, and storylines adapted to fit the short schedule. Nevertheless, when in comes to Sex and the City, drama, laughs and fashion, albeit in a shortened form, is never far from fabulous
---Episode 1- Anchors Away"----
The first episode featuring a sailors party during fleet week is an ode to New York, and is one of my favourites from the series. Being the first episode post 9/11, it dedicates the episode to NY, skillfully portraying the city as alive and exciting. The episode revolves around Fleet Week, and the adjustment to Mirandas new life with baby Brady.
Samantha is finding it hard to adjust to "cleaning up her act" in front of Brady, especially since she's still seething over Richard's infidelity. Newly single Charlotte is ready to find her next great love, whereas Carrie wonders if after Big and Aidan, she's all out of great loves. She asks: When it comes to being carefree single girls, have we missed the boat? While Miranda works on the art of breastfeeding, Carrie, Samantha and Charlotte go party with some gorgeous sailors. Charlotte flirts with an officer who isn't quite a gentleman. And despite a Southern sailor's best efforts, Carrie goes home alone, realizing that until she lets go of the past and finds her true love, New York.
---Episode 2 Unoriginal Sin---
Samantha is back with Richard, but Samantha finds herself not being able to trust him. Carrie is having little success with new material for her column now due to a relationship drought. However, Carrie finds out that a publisher is interested in turning her past columns into a book. She meets with the two single female publishers who declare she must give readers a message. Is she an optimist or a pessimist? In Carries aid, Charlotte takes her to a positivism course, where she learns that although seemingly a positivist, Charlotte is a big negativist with a broken heart. Miranda has to handle a request she can't ignore: Steve wants Brady to be baptized. Miranda asks Carrie to be the baby's godmother. As the holy water is poured over Brady, Carrie hopes that it will wash away some of her "sin-icism." She goes home and decides to dedicate her book to Charlotte - the eternal optimist.
---Episode 3 Luck Be An Old Lady---
Charlotte's turning 36 and is no mood to celebrate. But they do, and in true SATC style, the girls celebrate join Samantha on a private jet trip with Richard to Atlantic City. Carrie is determined to spend some quality time with her girlfriends, but finds that isn't so easy. Miranda wants to catch up on her sleep and Samantha is busy stalking Richard. Meanwhile, Charlotte is scared that she's become an old maid. Carrie realises people go to casinos for the same reason they go on blind dates - hoping to hit the jackpot. But she wonders: If we know the house always wins, why gamble? Samantha's declares enough is enough, so she tells Richard that she loves him but she loves herself more, and leaves him. Watching a happy couple taking in the sunset, Carrie realises that she's hiding in her friends and that love is worth gambling on.
---Episode 4 Cover Girl----
Carrie dislikes the photo of herself on the cover of her book, so Samantha offers to help Carrie create a look that says 'smart and sexy.' While Carries seeks help from others Charlotte indulges in a self help book. Meanwhile in the privacy of Samantha's office, a gorgeous delivery guy gives Samantha a package that she can't resist opening immediately, just as Carrie walks in! Shocked, Carrie heads back to her apartment and thinks about 'judgment.' She asks: "Should you judge a book by its cover?" Miranda joins weight watchers, and bites off more than she can chew when she meets Tom, aka "Big Boned." After class, they find delight in a glazed donut, and head to the bedroom to burn off the calories, where Miranda finds that hes a messy eater . Tension flies when Carrie and Samantha disagree on the right look for the book cover. Samantha accuses Carrie of judging her sexual behavior.
---Episode 5 Plus One Is The Loneliest Number ---
Its the book-launch party. Samantha becomes Carrie's publicist. Miranda hooks up with ex Walker Lewis. Carrie meets gorgeous fellow writer, Jack Berger and invites him to be her 'plus one' for her party, but he has a girlfriend. She realises how lonely she is, and starts thinking about what she has (a job and an apartment) and what she doesn't have (a boyfriend). She wonders why we let the one thing we don't have effect how we feel about everything. She asks: Why does one minus a 'plus one' feel like it adds up to zero? Samantha opts for a chemical peel before the book party and emerges looking like a lobster. Charlotte date Justin Anderson the third, her 'perfect plus one, until Bunny walks into the apartment and Charlotte is dumped. Miranda, invites Walker back to her home for coffee when Brady's cries interrupt them. Walker walks out. Miranda takes Brady in her arms and realizes that she's not the same person - she' plus one. On the way home, Carrie is content knowing that there are men out there that give her the butterflies in the tummy feeling.
---Episode 6 Critical Condition---
Miranda struggles to get Brady to stop crying, while Charlotte's struggles with ex-mother-in-law Bunny who is wants her out of the MacDougal apartment. So Charlotte hires a fierce lawyer to claim whats hers. Carrie receives a rave review from the New York Times, but she's more bothered by the writer's claim that the men in her life are disposable. She wonders why we only believe the negative things people say about us. While out with Stanford, Carrie runs into a woman who went out with Aidan after their breakup. She makes a scary face implying Carrie left Aidan distraught. Frustrated mama Miranda is relieved when a neighbour brings her a special vibrating baby chair that works like magic. Samantha offers to baby-sit while Miranda takes her appointment with a top hairstylist. The funniest moment of the series is when the vibrating chair breaks, Samantha pulls out her brand-new vibrator, and Brady goes back to sleep! Carrie obsesses over the bad things Nina Katz might be saying about her. When she runs into Nina again, she defends her relationship and break-up behavior with Aidan. Carrie accepts that the critic she was most afraid of - and the one whose opinion counts most - is herself.
---Episode 7 The Big Journey---
Carrie's book tour takes her to San Francisco, which isn't far from Mr Bigs new home. Motivated by her sexual desires, Carrie is determined to meet up with Big. Samantha, who, surprisingly, has grown disillusioned with New York men, decides to go with her, BY TRAIN! Harry, Charlottes bald sweaty lawyer hands over her divorce papers. Harry shows her a fab bachelor's apartment that is about to go on the market, and incidentally blurts out that he finds her incredibly sexy. Surprisingly, Charlotte leaps onto him. Afterwards, she tells a friend that the sex was amazing, but she doesnt want Harry as a boyfriend. At the book reading, Big emerges from the crowd and asks her if the "Big" she writes about has a name. Back in the hotel room, Carrie tries to lure Big to bed but he's more interested in understanding what she wrote about him. Carrie is surprised at how much her former lover has changed. He tells her he doesn't want her to get hurt again. Despite Carrie's insistence that she's fine, nothing happens. Come morning, Carries appetite for sex has gone, however Big is back to himself, joking that she'll need more material for the sequel.
---Episode 8 I Love A Charade---
Carrie is amazed to learn that her old friend Bobby Fine, a flamboyant singer, is finally getting married to a woman. They head to the Hamptons for the wedding. Once there, Samantha takes over Richard's mansion and throws a party. Charlotte's new just sex other half is invited but his hairy back is left at home thanks to a back wax! Also back at home Miranda finds herself having sex with Steve. Carrie runs into Jack Berger who tells her he broke up with his girlfriend. At the party Carrie and Berger share the joys of exs which proves too much for Berger to handle who leaves as quickly as he came. Samantha is plagued by three of Richard's bikini-bimbos. She accepts that she is still hurting from her break up with Richard. At the wedding, it is clear that love is in the air. Charlotte tells Harry that she is falling in love with him. Although he feels the same, hes Jewish and he has to marry a Jew. Berger makes a reappearance to tell Carrie that he'd like to take her out.
After the extreme wildness of the previous four series, the fifth series has seen the girls mature immensely; Carrie and Miranda come to terms with their solitary lifestyles, both with new attachments--Miranda with baby Brady and single motherhood, while Carrie, becoming cynical on love, falls into the world of publishing with her own book, on love. Charlotte wondered if she would ever find her Mr. Right, while Samantha finally got rid of her Mr. Wrong.
While its true to say that many episodes were used as fillers with too short a time to develop storylines as with previous series faced with the pregnancies of Nixon and Parker, the results, which are all pretty much stand alone episodes are a mixed bunch. The series fails in that too many episodes see the girls leaving NY. Sex and the City cannot work without its fifth lady as The Atlantic City episode demonstrated was dull and pointless. As was the episode where Carrie and Samantha travel to Chicago, one of the worst of the shows history with Carrie and Big meeting up in the most uninteresting way. No build up, no romance, just straight in and straight out as it were.
However the series does have some classic moments including Sam and Carrie falling out over a delivery guy, and Sams ingenious vibrating chair in Critical Condition.
Smart, and sophisticated just like the girls! It comes in a red Cardboard pullout, which unfolds to reveal three fabulous photos of Carrie.
Apart from the episode selection, theres none, which I found very disappointing. It would definitely benefit from some behind the scenes footage.
* Language: English, French, German
* Dolby Digital
* Feature sub titles: English, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish
* Running time: 230 mins
* Region 2
* Number of discs: 2
* Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
* Language: Some strong
* Sex/Nudity: Infrequent strong references
* Violence: None
* Other: None
To sum up, I'm giving this 4 stars as despite the the distinct poor value for money 8 episodes for 1 DVD with no extras, it's still a bundle of laughs, perfect for a girly night in.
I consider myself to be a lucky girl. Growing up, I have made many wonderful friends from all over the world, but there is one group of 6 people that have remained close to my heart for the last 10 years; yep, you guessed it. F*R*I*E*N*D*S. If you have never heard of this sitcom then you have most probably been living in space for 10 years! This show dominated the television throughout the 1990's and the lives of most teenagers and twentysomethings. Even though the series has finished, repeats are still going strong and will be for the foreseeable future.
***The One With The Show Description***
The show revolves around 6 20 something friends living in New York City played by Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. They frequently gather at each other's apartments or in "Central Perk" coffeehouse to share relationship and work troubles. The series was created by the writing team of Marta Kauffman & David Crane, and has won countless awards. The greatest part about the show is that each character is loveable, and everyone has one of these 'friends' in their group;
Rachel (Aniston) - The pretty one who is Monica's best friend from high school and ex roommate. Rachel works for a fashion designer and is the mother of Ross's second child.
Ross (Schwimmer) - Monica's brother. The Paleontologist and serial divorcee of the group. He married a lesbian and is the father of her baby, and has been in love with Rachel since high school. As Phoebe once said, Rachel is his lobster.
Monica (Cox-Arquette)- The person who is obsessed with cleaning, and liking things in an orderly fashion. A chef who is married to Chandler, and my favourite character!
Chandler (Perry)- The joker of the group, and Ross's best friend from college. He works for an ad agency, and used to have a third nipple!
Joey (Le Blanc) - The hunk of the show. An actor currently on "Days of Our Lives" is playing a man with a woman's brain. He live across the hall from Chandler and Monica, and is known for using the line 'How you doin' on women.
Phoebe (Kudrow) - The crazy lady who plays folk guitar in Central Park. She is also a massage therapist, who gave birth to triplets as a surrogate mother for her half-brother and his wife.
This series was the last (sob sob) and while not the best, it's certainly not least. Over series 1-9 we have seen Ross and Rachel get together, break up, get together, break up, get married, get divorced, and have a baby. Monica and Chandler have gone from being the best of friends to husband and wife. And we have seen Joey and Phoebe well, being Joey and Phoebe! The 10th series begins with the gang in Barbados. Rachel is attracted to Joey who is with Charlie, while Ross is attracted to Charlie. However, as the series draws to a close, it couldn't end more differently! I won't go into anymore detail, as I don't want to give the finale away. Other goings on in the series include Monica and Chandler deciding to adopt a child after being told they could never get pregnant. Phoebe decides she is the marrying kind and Mike is the man for her. Joey, well, nothing significant ever happens to Joey!
***The One With The Episode Guide***
The series only has 18 episodes compared with the usual 24 of other series. I understand it had something to do with certain members of the cast not wanting to do another full series. Plus Cox was pregnant, so filming would be difficult. Anyhow, it's not the quantity, but quality that counts. And so the episodes are as follows;
10.01 The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss 'Romantic hook-ups continue to go astray in Barbados'
10.02 The One Where Ross is Fine 'Rachel, Joey and Charlie spend a very uncomfortable evening with Ross'
10.03The One With Ross' Tan 'Ross has a spray-on two-tone tan disaster'
10.04 The One With the Cake 'It's Emma's first birthday party but the wrong birthday cake arrives'
10.05 The One Where Rachel's Sister Baby-sits. Rachel convinces her spoiled sister Amy to baby-sit Emma. Phoebe unwittingly ruins a surprise.
10.06 The One With Ross's Grant. Ross is interviewed by a Nobel Prize winning scientist for a paleontology grant - but the doctor is Charlie's ex-boyfriend.
10.07 The One With the Home Study 'Monica and Chandler meet with an adoption worker who will decide if they are suitable parents.
10.08 The One With the Late Thanksgiving 'Monica prepares a Thanksgiving feast for the gang and is furious when no one shows up.
10.09 The One With The Birth Mother 'Monica and Chandler travel to Texas to meet a young pregnant woman who is considering allowing them to adopt her child when it's born'.
10.10 The One Where Chandler Gets Caught 'Monica and Chandler struggle to tell their best friends they are leaving the City.'
10.11 The One Where The Stripper Cries. Monica and Rachel throw a mature bachelorette party for Phoebe and are forced to hire a stripper at the last minute.'
10.12 The One With Phoebe's Wedding. 'When a blizzard shuts down the City, Monica's emergency tactics keep the wedding from falling apart.'
10.13 The One Where Joey Speaks French ' Phoebe tries to teach Joey to speak French for an audition.'
10.14 The One With Princess Consuela 'Phoebe legally changes her name to Princess Consuela Bananahammock.'
10.15 The One Where Estelle Dies ' Phoebe tries to protect Joey from the news that his agent Estelle has died. Ross secretly schemes to get Rachel her job back.'
10.16 The One With Rachel's Going Away Party 'Joey and Chandler find innovative ways to experiment with Monica and Chandlers packing supplies.'
10.17 The Last One, Part 1
10.18 The Last One, Part 2 'The series finale of Friends finds Monica and Chandler embracing parenthood, and the will they won't they saga between Ross and Rachel finally reaches a conclusion.
***The One With The Packaging***
Series 10 follows the packaging of other Friends box sets. The box itself is maroon coloured with pictures of the gang on the front. There are 3 slimline cases, 2 containing 8 episodes, while the last DVD has just 1 (the finale) with descriptions of each episode on the back (great for hunting down your favourite episode). Not only is this box set a major space saver, but it keeps the cost of the set down, which is great if like me you are an avid fan and want to buy every series!
My favourite episodes of the series are TOW Joey speaks French, i.e. "blah blue fluff"! And TOW Ross' tan, where he looks like he has been out in the sun for a year! They will have you rolling on the floor with laughter! Of course the highlight of the series is the finale, which will leave you gasping for more.
***The One With The Extra Features***
In addition to episode and scene selection, there are some fantastic extra features on this DVD;
---Friends around the world---
Gunther takes a look at how Friends episodes are translated around the world. We are shown how actors in Japan take home the Friends transcript, translate it into Japanese, and then and dub the original. A good feature, but you will need to put the subtitles on if you don't speak Japanese!
---The one that goes behind the scenes---
A behind the scenes look with the makers of Friends at how the first few episodes of series 7 were written. This is fascinating! I was absolutely hooked to this feature. Although I think this has been shown on TV before.
---Flashback gag reels---
My favourite feature! Outtakes of Friends episodes, or otherwise known as Aunties Bloomers! It mostly features Matt Perry making jokes or Matt Le Blanc forgetting his lines. This is actually funnier than the episodes! They really look like they have fun during filming.
---Friends of Friends parts 1,2,3---
A look at the other characters that have made this show so great, including Judy and Jack Bing, Gunther, Janice.
***The One With The Specifications***
 Language: English, French, German
 2.0 Dolby Digital
 Feature sub titles: English, Dutch,
 Running time: Each episode is 22 Mins approx.
 Region 2
 Number of discs: 3
 Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
***The Last One ***
While this DVD is better than other friends series in terms of value for money, and the amount of extra features, unfortunately the storylines are not has good in comparison with previous series. Infact, they share an uncanny resemblance to plots from Sex and the City. For example, Monica and Chandler decided to adopt, as does Charlotte and Harry. Rachel goes to Paris, as does Carrie. Phoebe, the person they thought would never marry walks up the aisle, as does Miranda. A little too much of a co-incidence for my liking. Saying that, the episodes are funny, and worthy of watching time and time again. This DVD is a must have for any Friends fan needing their Friends fix!
* Cost: £17.99 Play.com Jan 05