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    • An open letter to.... / Discussion / 104 Readings / 96 Ratings
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      09.09.2008 11:30
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      Care workers are not low skilled workers.

      To the Home Office Minister,
      Madam,
      I am livid.
      I am a New Zealand woman, fast approaching my 60th birthday and I have been working in United Kingdom for over five years and this morning I hear on the television news you value my services in a ''downwards'' scale - my ''low skills'' services are not required anymore.

      How will my MS client feel when I go in and tell him I will not be allowed to renew my work permit as I am lowly skilled, and the government does not want me here?

      Minister, please advise me why you value the EU carers over me.. I can speak the English language to high levels, I have been a reporter for 25 years so have a good command of the English language. I can write in our daily care book to most acceptable levels of handwriting, some of your EU privileged have not been able to write the simplest of sentences for our most necessary recording procedure.


      I can speak clearly and succinctly to my MS young man who is completely paralysed, blind, incontinent and cannot move anything properly except his head. He cannot speak clearly and all in all it is fair to say he does need SPECIALIST CARE.

      I am being honest with you here Minister - I am SPECIALISED, I do not have a formal degree but with many years St John Ambulance training in First Aid and Home Nursing, decades of looking after my late husband who died at 62 years old of early-onset Alzheimers Disease and generally a long-term at the University of Life - I am not ''in the lower skills'' grade you have declared us mature carers from outside the EU are!!

      I am livid Mr or Mrs or Ms Minister.
      My current work permit runs out in December 2011 and if I want to beg you for Indefinite Leave to Remain I have to do the following: Pay either GBP750 if I send in a request or GBP900 if I take time off work and travel to Croydon to present myself and all the things you need for me to grovel to be allowed to stay and to work, to pay taxes and to contribute to the economy. You will know I have to present your officers with birth certificates of myself, my father and grandfather who was born in Deptford, London... as well I will be presenting three months original bank statements, your several page application form as well as my UK Quiz results (which I will pay GBP35 for and have to take a day off work to sit) I will have to be sure to make application within 2-weeks of sitting this exam. If I post it you will want to hold my passport for 40 days which restricts when I can sit the exam and get things off to you.

      You will of course know that your EU preferred carers will just show a passport as they fly, bus, train in and walk into work and not have to do anything else.

      Minister I invite you to look up my records to see that I paid around GBP400 to get my original Ancestry Work Permit and before it ran out after four years I took a week off work, travelled to Croydon and went through an arduous application/renewal procedure costing me over GBP1000 to get a five year Residence Permit which runs out in December 2011. If I want Indefinite Leave to Remain (which I do) I now face all the procedure mentioned in this communication to you and a further GBP750 or GBP900 plus costs involved in making my application.

      Minister I am livid ....as mentioned earlier, the EU people come in for hardly any cost and form filling etc etc!!!

      May I remind you Minister that New Zealand men and woman answered the call from the Motherland when she called on her British Commonwealth citizens for support ....30,000 died and thousands of others maimed in two world wars which they fought for Britain! We are still members of the British Commonwealth and the Queen is our Queen.

      Some of these EU people who walk into England to work, and send child benefits home to places all over Europe, are from countries that people from Britain and my Kiwi elders were at war with ----dying and fighting against.

      I have worked for over five years in Britain, I have been the Live-In-Carer for 20 clients and every one of them and their families have been so pleased to have me live-in and give top-quality care at all times. The anger I feel right now has forced me to give up humility as I tell you I AM A HIGHLY SKILLED AND HIGHLY sought-after live-in-carer. After nearly five years I have left working for the agency and am now privately, self-employed working with a young man who is definitely in need of a highly-skilled, competent and committed carer - I am that person and wish to remain so for many years.

      Minister - I am livid.
      My young man has had a huge variety of carers from all over the world - he has had so many disappointments that he has decided to only have me working to look after him.
      I am privately, self-employed - I love my work and tell you I look after him the best he could get in the world. I am from New Zealand and I am a valued and contributing member of the community I work and live in - near Manchester.

      Minister - I am aware that Britain has an migrant worker problem but may I respectfully suggest that you are hitting the wrong area. Live-in care agencies and care-homes are short of carers and it seems the low wage does not attract English people to the industry. What are the clients/patients going to do if there are not enough people working in the industry?

      Why hit New Zealand and Australian mature people? They bring a load of skills and life experiences to share with the elderly and infirmed.....they speak English, they know how to work hard and have a strong desire to contribute to all aspects of life.... you are making a huge mistake.

      I am livid that EU people are valued and I am not.
      Minister - I expect a reply from you.
      Minister - I expect you to re-assess your decision.

      I remain, committed to caring to my Professional, Highly Skilled and dedicated standards.
      I remain, yours faithfully (if not disillusioned),
      ........................... (Me)!

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      • More +
        07.09.2008 22:46
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        The Secret is repetitive, the message unproven

        I have a secret for you.
        Do not buy The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne.
        ''You hold in your hands a great secret" it says on the back. ''It has been passed down through the ages, highly coveted, hidden, lost, stolen and bought for vast sums of money. This centuries-old Secret has been understood by some of the most prominent people in history: Plato, Galileo, Beethoven, Edison, Carnegie, Einstein - along with other inventors, theologians, scientists and great thinkers. Now the Secret is being revealed to the world.''

        A new friend loaned me this book and as I am not a new-age sort of person I wasn't too interested but she emailed the next day to see if I had started reading it, if so, what did I think of it?

        So, after reading the blurb on the back and thinking it a bit ''airy-fairy'' for me I set off to find the new me, to see why I hadn't won the huge lottery I have so set my heart on for the five years I've lived in England with access to striking the ''big one''.


        Now I should have seen it as a warning - in the introduction on the paper fly - ''In this book you'll learn how to use The Secret in every aspect of your life - money, health, relationships, happiness and in every interaction you have in the world. You'll begin to understand the hidden, untapped power that's within you, and this revelation can bring joy to every aspect of your life.''
        There was even a hint that I'd obtain things many would regard as impossible.

        So, why did I go on? Why did I read to the last page? It was Tuesday and the Euromillions was around GBP90 million in a few days and boy I could do with all the help I could get! No harm done in reading the ''Bible according to Rhonda Byrne''.

        So around 200 pages later, the little hard cover book has been read by me - I am reviewing my first ever book here and I guess you could say it has been a ''joy''. I must have learned something because if I send out lots of joy to the Universe it will come back to me. How joyous it is for me to be creating this review!

        The big lure for me to read on was that I had to ''tell the Universe what I wanted - not ask - TELL it and it is was up to the Universe to work out how it was going to happen. So you can be sure I told the UNIVERSE very clearly, succinctly that I WANTED the GBP90million pounds on Friday night. (Just a note here - the Universe does NOT have any knowledge of time so I guess that is why I did not win the most coveted cheque on the exact date and time).

        As I retired to bed on Friday night I did all the positive thinking, visualised me holding the cheque, truly EXPECTED I would win the extremely large amount of money because, after all, I deserve it. Positive, there was no-body more positive than me. But, as I nodded off I wondered how many other readers of The Secret had spent four days doing all the power of positive thinking I'd done and how many were visualising themselves holding the cheque and set down plans on how they were going to enjoy it all.

        I take you through the chapters to give you and idea of what is addressed : The Secret Revealed, The Secret Made Simple, How To Use the Secret, Powerful Processes, The Secret to Money, The Secret to Relationships, The Secret to Health, The Secret to the World, The Secret to You and The Secret to Life.

        A personal touch, Rhonda Byrne tells us in her foreward that she has capitalized the word You so that the reader knows and feels she has created the book especially for them. ''My intention is for You to feel a personal connection with these pages, because The Secret has been created for You''.

        So, as you read through you can put yourself into the picture. This highly repetitive tome introduces You to, and aids you, to appreciate the words of wisdom from a variety of '' experts '' like a philospher, psychologist and trainer in the field on mind potential, a visionary and founder of the Agape International Spiritual Centre, a metaphysician, moneymaking expert, a law of attraction specialist and there are references to quotes from people long dead.

        But I know you will be dying to know what The Secret is. You learn this quite early on, on page four when Bob Proctor tells us it is ATTRACTION. ''The Secret is the law of attraction. Everything that's coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it is attracted to you by virtue of the images you're holding in your mind. It's what you're thinking. Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you.''

        Rhonda Byrne tells us at this point, ''The greatest teachers who have ever lived have told us that the law of attraction is the most powerful law in the Universe. The law of attraction is forming your entire life experience and this all-powerful law is doing that through your thoughts. You are the one who calls the law of attraction into action, and you do it through your thoughts.''

        Actually the rest of the book says this again and again and you do get the idea that it's all up to you - if you are unwell it is because your thoughts were negative and of being unwell, if you have not got rich it is because you do not think and visualise yourself as being wealthy.

        Back to Bob Proctor again, '' if you see it in your mind, you're going to hold it in your hand.''
        Dr Joe Vitale sums it all up: ''Thoughts are sending out that magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you.'' Rhonda Byrne explains, ''Thoughts are magnetic and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything you send out returns to the source. And that source is You.''

        In this book we learn that we are all a human transmission tower (like our tv tower) but we are more powerful than any television tower created on earth.'' You are the most powerful transmission tower in the Universe. Your transmission creates your life and it creates the world. The frequency you transmit reaches beyond cities, beyond countries, beyond the world. It reverberates throughout the entire Universe. And You are transmitting that frequency with your thoughts,'' advises Rhonda Byrne.

        But we do know that this did not work for me and my huge lottery win. Well I did the visualizing when I saw me shaking hands with the Camelot person, my two gnarly old hands holding the cheque and even my first interview with the bank manager, and I even had the press-release prepared with complete anonymity - the thought-police were booking me for voluminous, speedy thoughts zooming out into the Universe. There is a small glimmer of hope and joy for me - remembering that the Universe ''cannot tell time' - it may still come my way. You can be sure if it does there will be a review about my joyful reaction!


        What worries me about this book is that some people may take it all too seriously - like read it and find out that if they are really ill it is because they attracted the illness to themselves. Hale Dwoskin tells us, ''Anything we focus on we do create. So if we're really angry, for instance, at a war that's going on, or strife, or suffering, we're adding our energy to it. We're pushing ourselves, and that only creates resistance.'' Or Jack Canfield says, '' The anti-war movement creates more war. The anti-drug movement has actually created more drugs. Because we're focusing on what we don't want - drugs!

        We are told, ''Disease is held in the body by thought, by observation of the illness, and by the attention given to the illness. If you are feeling a little unwell, don't talk about it - unless you want more of it. If you listen to people talk about their illness, you add energy to their illness. Instead, change the conversation to good things, and give powerful thoughts to seeing those people in good health.''

        Yes, there is always a place for positiveness when your friend tells you they are extremely unwell but in my life experiences - if they bring up the subject they do want to talk about it and they get some relief from talking it through. The best you can do is listen and let them talk.

        This book tends to repeat the same message and doesn't really prove that The Secret medically or scientifically will change lives - generally speaking I guess the message to be positive, be joyful, expect the best in life and plan on being well and happy, will benefit the reader. There's nothing really new in here and I am glad I never paid for it.

        To be honest my friend has emailed me this week to see if I have read all of the book and asked what I think about it. Now, with my new-found information I must think of something positive to joyfully reply to her. I am not having much fun visualizing what I will write so I obviously have not been converted!

        It would be unfair if I didn't say something positive about the book. It did remind me that a positive attitude is always healthy, I have been more focused on being grateful for what I have and thankful for my life so far and for what it brings and where it takes me in the future. Both important messages in the book. Rhonda Byrne is enthusiastic about her message and she has the right to promote her ideals.

        It wouldn't surprise me if a number of the many millions reported to have purchased this book never got to the end of it. I may be wrong but I made myself finish it - took days but I did endure it just to see if there was an improvement in the information, or interest, to find I'd trudged through only to be disappointed.

        Summing up - on the back page it tells us a little bit about Rhonda Byrne who has been on her own journey of discovery. ''Along the way, she brought together a superb team of authors, ministers, teachers, film makers, designers and publishers to bring forth The Secret to the world, and through her vision, bring joy to millions.''


        At the end of this long and repetitive journey you learn: ''The earth turns on its orbit for You. The oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You. The sun rises and it sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life. And now you know The Secret.''


        Secretly, would I recommend it?: You already know the answer to that.

        (At the risk of readers saying I should not add a personal note to a book review!!!) My Secret to You: if you want a fulfilling life, aim to be happy. Strive for good health. If you want to make money, work hard, save and along the way, be kind, caring, laugh lots, travel, and at the end of each day, go to bed happy that you have not upset or hurt anyone. Most of all, love Yourself and treasure those you share your life with. That wise tome cost you nothing and there was no ''team of experts'' to help me come to this realisation.


        THE SECRET, Rhonda Byrne.
        Published in Great Britain by : Simon and Shuster UK Ltd, 2006
        , Beyond Words Publishing.
        ISBN-13:978-1-84737-029-7
        ISBN-10: 1-84737-029-2

        Hard cover, on the back is says GBP12.00
        There is apparently a movie: on the back cover it invites you to visit www.thesecret.tv BUT I will not be!
        PS... IT GIVE ME GREAT JOY TO SEE THIS IS MY 50TH REVIEW... I AM GRATEFUL TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE SUPPORTED ME TO THIS MILESTONE AND THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR READS AND COMMENTS... I AM SO HAPPY!!!!

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          23.06.2008 14:14
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          Easy, efficient bra buying

          A girl needs a good uplifting experience when she's buying a bra.
          Now, if you are a wonderful member of the male species you might like to turn away....after all the trussing of the mammaries is not a major for you. (I hope you stay with it as the rating will be a bit of a bonus for me!!!)

          Big bosomed ladies, the well endowed, can have a bit of a bother when it comes to finding the right brassiere. Certainly I am one of those and a visit to a local bra shop, last week, nearly tipped me over the edge.

          I've had a lot of upper back pain, around the shoulders, so found a really excellent massage lady and she recommended I go and have a proper bra fitting as that may well have been the source of my daily agony.

          She recommended one in our town so off I go, asked for a fitting and told her it was to be more medical than 'pretty'. She awaited outside the booth, curtain firmly pulled across, and handed me in a 34 F. Well, that was not going to do the trick. She handed in a FF. Nowhere near the target. Then she floored me - ''We don't do anything bigger than FF. You will have to try elsewhere.'' I felt my mammaries drop an inch or two in sheer disappointment... what, have to get dressed and go to another store and go all through this again!!

          Well, I decided I was not going to put them through this again and off home I went and put into my internet, Bravissimo - seen the lovely girls on the TV with larger-than-life 'boozzies' .... all lacy and the like.

          Wonder upon wonder.... not only was there lots of delightfully feminine numbers (bras etc) but there's a lot of information on how to size yourself. A really pleasant experience going through the site and I took the plunge and ordered a 34GG. (Horrors! Never been that size before!)

          Bravissimo aims to please the larger boobed woman with lingerie, swimwear,nightwear and clothing and the postal delivery site is really really well presented with its internet site and my delivery was extremely efficient. The underwear comes in bright colours, florals and patterns or plain pastel colours.

          Should add here my sister is in New Zealand and works in a bra shop so she and I spent that day emailing on the subject of bras..... she had bought the one I chose, in New Zealand ,for heaps more than I was going to pay... she loved hers and it was exactly the same as my purchase.

          So, five minutes ago it arrived. Beautifully packaged in red-patterned paper and a little feminine seal on it - with information what to do if I have to return it and a competition which may see me win Bravissimo goodies for a year and chocolates too!

          I tried it on and it is a miracle - it fits and it looks stunning..... I am a convert. Won't buy another bra off anyone in any store. I Love it and so do my boobs.

          Now my new booby buddy has lots and lots of bras for fuller bosoms. Some may say they seem a little expensive but when you are big boobed and you can go on line and order your ''over-shoulder-boulder-holders'' and they arrive through the letter box a couple of days later- fitting and supporting your mammaries so superbly - it is worth it.

          So mine is Belle of the Fantasie Full Cup range and the little label says -
          Excellent support, full coverage, maximum comfort and ideal for everyday use - that's just what I was looking for and after five minutes I'm delighted. There is still the test of time to come but I head off into this experience with full confidence that my bra fits fantastically and looks great. Not sure how many are going to see it!!!! One can live in hopes. Whatever, the look and feel of my new bra, it makes me feel fantastic and that's what really matters.

          It cost GBP31 and postage GBP3-50
          There is an excellent return/exchange letter on the back of the invoice - gladly I won't have to use it.

          Bravissimo is based in Leamington Spa, England and has the excellent website which introduced me to using it: www.bravissimo.com

          I am so excited to have a new bosom buddy - let's hope we have a long and happy relationship.

          Several hours have past since I so enthusiastically wrote this review.... I left it to see how I feel about my new bra ---- it's going well and I am confident we will be great bosom buddies for a good long time ahead.

          Fellas, if you are still with it...... hope you learned something and this has been an ''uplifting'' experience for you!!

          It's been brought to my attention that I don't mention the size range: Back -28 to 40, Cup D to L... as it mentions on their site when you place an order.

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          • ebookers.com / Online Shop / 69 Readings / 69 Ratings
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            09.06.2008 21:19
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            I am so cross with this experience.

            It takes a lot to reduce me to tears, EBookers did. Tears of sheer frustration!

            The past weekend will go down in my travel history as being the one on which I endured the worst booking experience I have ever had, in many travelling experiences.

            I have spent a week on the internet researching for my Christmas/New Year annual visit home to New Zealand and on Saturday night I made the decision based on price and availability to book on the internet..... using EBookers.

            I went through all the procedure required and when I clicked on the box to put through my credit card it came back saying my security number was not correct: ''use another card or try again later''. I do have another credit card but it's credit limit is low because I do not use it very often...... the amount I was putting through (GBP1044.00) was in excess of my limit on that card.

            I decided to try again later. When I did the same advice came back so I left it a while and tried again. I tried three times. This was my mistake - not that I knew it was erroneous. So, I looked up the top of the website and decided to phone them. This I did on my cellphone as I do not have a landline.

            A man said he would help me so we proceeded to do the booking. He was really hard to understand and I had to say ''I beg your pardon"" quite often and this really ''irked'' him - I could tell because be was extremly short with me when he repeated his questions to me.

            This first encounter was really awful. He asked me my first name and I told him it with each letter followed by a word - you know the procedure P for PET, A for apple etc etc. Now believe it or not he did this about three times. He repeated so much information my cellphone was about to have appolexy when he finally said he was in a position to put my credit card through. It took AGES to get to this stage and then blow me down he said ''because you have pressed the button to use your credit card three times on the site your credit card people have put a BLOCK on it.''

            He said he could not put the booking through... as it would be 24 hours before the credit card would work again. I said could you hold it for 24 hours and book it then. He said ""NO, and you will not be able to have this fare tomorrow either''

            When in doubt ... CRY. Well I can tell you it was out of pure FRUSTRATION ....... I did burst into vapours. He said that i should phone New Zealand and ask my credit card people to unblock it and he would phone me in half an hour and put the booking through.

            Well, at more cost to myself I did this and the lady said there was nothing wrong with my card and that if I went down the road and used it it would work no problem at all. It was not the bank that had blocked my card but the website security people.

            He was to phone me by 9.30pm Saturday night but did not do so and I remembered seeing a COMMENT ON YOUR BOOKING EXPERIENCE on their website so I with no holes barred I filled in the section and told them he had not phoned back in the given time.

            At 11.10pm when I was in bed he phoned and I told him the bank said there was no problem with my card and they could do nothing about it being blocked. Believe it or not he went through the entire booking process again..... yes the P for PET, A for Apple and all other information. I was cross. At the end of this second drama the card still would not work. I told him it was the worst booking experience I had ever had. He knew I was extremely angry and said a colleague of his would phone me the next evening to see if the card would work then.

            During the next morning another man who was extremely difficult to understand phoned and he started to go through the entire ''inquisition'' to do a fresh booking. I interrupted and said as 24 hours was not up until around 8.30pm later than night I saw no use in doing the ''rigmarole'' at that point. He agreed to phone at 9pm.

            Well,. he did and you guessed right he set about doing the entire interview again.... I said where is all the information I gave TWICE last night. He was perceptive enough to know I was not happy. He did dredge up most of the information but I had to do the P for PET, A for Apple bit again ........ only to spend another 15-20 minutes with him .... and you guessed it again.... the card did not work.

            NOW, I was EXTREMELY CROSS..... I told him that his website was the problem not my card..... or security number... I did say i realised this was not his fault but I did not wish to go any further with his company and would he please re-assure me nothing would be put on m y card at any stage and would my personal details please be removed from the system.

            My final sentence to him. ''I do not want to have anything to do with your company again... I will book with another company.''

            And I did.. Today I went on the internet and in 20 minutes I had chosen a set of return flights to New Zealand, paid for it with no problems with my credit card security number, had a confirmation email back and it was all filed in my travel folder in 20 minutes.

            There is nothing nice I can say about EBookers - a dear friend once told me you should not say awful things about people unless you can say something nice..... her rule was to say awful things and then say ''but he/she has nice feet''.

            I cannot even say that. I am wracking my brains to see if there was anything nice.... NO. My review serves to say the attitude of these ''foreign'' personnel when you politely say you cannot understand their language when they ask the sentence in this case was ''frustrating''.... they sounded frustrated and cross with me and i was honestly trying to understand without having to say ''I beg your pardon"" but I cannot help it if I cannot understand them.

            Please do not think I am racist. I am not. I am most tolerant of people of all cultures - it is just in this case I spoke to 2 or three different people and all expressed annoyance with me for not understanding them. This in turn stressed me out.

            This EBookers weekend was one I will never forget. Hopefully someone will find out what went wrong with their website and do something about it.

            Thank you for reading this... I think it is my first negative review and has been therapeutic to write it.... I guess that is not the reason you should write reviews and if I am rebuked for it i will have to deal with that when it happens. Apologies if I have transgressed.

            Final insult: the fare on the internet was GBP1044 and when he was asking all the questions he added that the fare would be GBP1054. I said that it was ten pound cheaper on the website and he said ''No madam, you have the knowledge that you have me booking it for you, no mistakes, so that is why you pay ten pounds more''. Now was that value for money? ... definitely NOT.

            Use EBookers at your peril. (also on Ciao)

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              01.06.2008 19:35
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              Brand new, huge and plenty of holiday fun

              She's Sleek, stylish, superb. She'll take your breath away

              She's ''the biggest passenger cruise ship in the world'', according to her owners Royal Caribbean Cruises. Independence of the Seas is here and she is magnificent.

              I read up all the advertising hype on the Royal Caribbean internet site before we arrived at Southampton, for the inaugural Independence of the Seas, Canary Island/Lisbon/Vigo 12-day cruise in early May, and I was expecting a really huge ship. Nothing could have prepared me for the size of this lady. As we drove into sight we could not believe our eyes. It was massive, HUGE!

              Brand new, only launched a few days before, this absolutely fabulous marine monster totally dominated the port and there were plenty of onlookers capturing it all on film. As well, 3300 passengers were making an orderly and well orchestrated embarkation for the 5pm sailing.

              Cruise ships use the advertising blurb - ''floating hotel''. All 15 public decks of this 158,000 ton cruise ship truly are opulent and luxurious, with a good balance of formal and informal areas to suit the most discerning cruisers as well as those who want to relax or make the best of the energetic type recreation areas.

              My travel companion was an 83-year-'young' lady- friend on her first ever cruise and fate determined we were in for a luxurious cruise experience. She spent every minute of every day absolutely reveling in our surroundings. To say we were overawed is an understatement. I was wrapt. Such beauty and style proves to me that it is okay to refer to ships as ''female''!

              To be honest, I've been days thinking about writing this..... I don't know where to start - my mind is all over the place as I try to put into order the best things first. I suppose after my initial reaction of extremely prolific oohs and aahs my next impressions were centered around the exceptionally excellent food. The entire formal dining experiences were discerning - both in the decor of the dining areas and the quality of the food, matched with top service. Then my next ''best'' has to be the vast and varied entertainment and activities programme, but let's start with the food.


              MEALS
              The meals were definitely diverse:
              * Formal dining in the 3-tier Shakespeare themed dining rooms which share a huge, fabulous crystal chandelier: on the ground floor the Romeo and Juliet, mid is Macbeth and on the top King Lear - each one differently presented in decor.
              These are used for two set times of formal evening dining, 6.30pm and 8.30pm. The Romeo and Juliet opens some days for superb a-la-carte dining.
              * The Windjammer high up on the 11th deck is huge, think of a football field and add some more yards on - set up with so many food choices I had no way of adding them up to report here but it was open long hours offering buffet/smorgasbord choice. Superb food in sterile clean serveries, for hot and cold collation.
              * Café Promenade.
              * Sorrento's Pizza.
              * Johnny Rockets ($3.95 cover charge per person)
              * Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream (nominal fee)
              * Sprinkles Ice Cream (Self Service) free.
              * Jade
              * Chops Grille (USA$25 dining fee per person)
              * Portofino (USA$20 dining fee per person)


              No matter where you dined the service was reliably superb. Nothing was a bother to the dining-waiting staff and if you needed anything not on offer they encouraged passengers to ask for it and they would see what they could do. Our waiter saw me enjoying my escargot entree and offered another before my main course. Of course I answered ''yes'' devouring my second platter with as much enthusiasm as I had the first. (Later you will read an important point I found out about the service, but this is not the right place for it!)

              New for me, and most appreciated, was the fact that I could buy a bottle of wine at the table and it was stored away for further nights, therefore releasing me from having to pay by the glass every night, which would have been far more expensive.

              When you book you choose if you want to sit at a table for a few diners or a larger number for evening dining. We chose early sitting, we sat with two other couples and this proved to be a pleasant way to dine and to meet new friends. We scored a table by the huge window so looked out to sea or to the scenery at the ports as we dined.

              SO WHY IS THIS SHIP DIFFERENT?
              So, I hear you say, ''a cruise is a cruise so what made this one different?'' So many features were forever memorable. It's sheer size is a major difference, with every public area well designed and working well for its purpose. The Royal Promenade is a bright, bustling shopping complex in the middle of the ship and it serves as a popular meeting place, entertainment 'stage' and of course a variety of shops.

              The amount of quality artwork on walls, in hallways, in the restaurants, bars, reception, in your stateroom and on the escalator area is definitely impressive. There was apparently a Pablo Picasso onboard and at the champagne art auction I went to there were paintings by Van Gogh, Salvador Dali and Thomas Kinkade. Believe it or not some were sold in the many thousands of US dollars. I sat with my hands firmly under my ample posterior!!

              While the decor is quite stunning throughout it's the SERVICE that stands out on Independence of the Seas. Our passenger number reached 3300 with 1400 staff and crew who came from all over the world. Night or day you could not fault the service. We needed assistance with our wheelchair as it let us down twice. Both times a man came and worked on it and had us back in action in no time at all. The lifts were extremely unsatisfactory for wheelchair users. We told a smartly dressed uniformed man we met in the lift that they closed too quickly, hitting the wheelchair legs. He stopped in the hallway when we walked out, he took out his little communication computer ''thingy'' and entered my observation, saying he could not fix it on the spot but would have it attended to as soon as possible.

              Independence of the Seas is generally wheelchair-friendly and on our cruise there were many wheelchairs and mobility scooters, most seemed to be moving around okay and when we went onshore there was crew on-hand to push my friend on and off the boat. You can take your own wheelchair or use one belonging to the ship.

              SUPER SERVICE
              While everywhere you look you see opulence and style it is the staff and crew who set the Independence of the Seas on a pedestal for me, they involved themselves with us at all levels; chatting to us in the corridors, at the table, in shops, around the pool - it seemed that they really were interested in how we were enjoying the cruise. This communication continued in daily chats from the cruise director, some of the entertainment staff and of course the Croation captain with his information on our position, weather and other relevant information. As with other cruise ships there was the daily ''newspaper'' on the bed at night providing plenty of information for the day ahead and some forward information for other forthcoming days.


              WHAT TO DO ALL DAY AND NIGHT?
              The entertainment schedule would take you six months if you decided to do it all. Seminars, competitions, exhibitions, Bingo, art auctions, boxing, towel-folding, food and vegetable carving and a show, over two sessions, every night. Visiting international standard entertainers and the ship's entertainment troupe present some marvellous one-hour shows. The two Ice Skating extravaganzas included Olympic standard skaters as well as others from all over the world. The ice skating show programmes ran three times each and attracted full houses each time... magnificent standard of dance, music and unbelievable costumes.

              Just a sample of some activities organised to fill the day: Male Sexiest Knees!, Belly Flop Contest, Connoisseur Wine Tasting, Stretch and Meditation, makeup demonstrations, karaoke and boogie bodies, Line Dancing, cards, Cigar Aficionados in the Connoisseur Club, movies, jewellery making, Picasso and Friends exhibition and hundreds more things which will appeal to people of all ages.

              The H2o area on deck 11 is massive with several pools, whirlpools and lots of deck space to lie out on the plentiful deck-beds and deck-chairs. Music played and outdoor shows were enjoyed my hundreds and you could even get free ice-creams and fruit juices here. You used your plastic card to obtain a towel and when you returned it this was recorded. If you don't return it there's a hefty charge put on your account.

              Imagine me reclining in the hot-pool as we arrived at Madiera, our first port of call, to a huge welcome as it was the first time Independence of the Seas had arrived there. Many thousands lined the foreshore and tugs spurted huge plumes of water, high into the air, as our ship fog-horned its way into the port. All this observed by me, soaking in the hot pool, cantilevered out over the ship, hanging there in space - what a memory. The two 16-people whirlpools are cantilevered 12 feet (3.7metres) over the sides of the ships.

              The top deck is for the energetic with the main feature being the climbing rock wall where there were plenty of cruisers making it to the top and exultant as they rang the bell. Also up there is the mini-golf course, a basketball court and the popular FlowRider (surfing) and a bar to cool off after the fun filled activities which cruisers of all ages enjoyed. I did explore up here but NO I did not pit my most sedentary body against any of the thrills on this recreational deck

              Other things to keep you busy onboard are the casino, extremely well presented gym with a boxing ring, library, internet suite, art gallery, movies, a beauty spa with a vast range of services and even a tv/radio-room as well as ice skating if you feel like emulating the excellent performers after the shows! Independence of the Seas is a floating village - you wake up to a new ''life'' every day.

              Consider this - you decide to have the cocktail of the day - well you can do so in any of the 22 bars, cafés or the two theatres, including the Dog and Badger Pub.... or enjoy a dining experience in the formal dining rooms or one of the other foodies experiences, and take in music and dance all over the ship, day and night as per the daily programme you get in your state-room each night.

              Most things don't cost a penny but if you decide to have a beauty treatment you pay and of course if you want to do an onshore excursion these cost varying amounts of American dollars too. You pay for any photographs you order as well as alcoholic drinks but all over the ship you can call in for 'free' pizza, ice-cream, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, fruit juices etc at the cafe/bars anytime of day. We took some time to get used to being able to pop in to the café and get the most delightful pattissierre cakes, bagels, and sandwiches and not have to dip into the purse to pay for it.

              PERSONAL CARD- Seapass
              As with other cruise ships you have a personal credit-card size plastic card with your name and other information on it. This serves as your ''passport'' on and off the ship and you use it for all purchases onboard. As you first go on the ship they put it in a machine and take your photo so for all movement on and off the ship they check your photo, good security. On the television in your stateroom you can call up your account and see what you owe every night, then at the end of the cruise you get an account, if it is okay you do nothing, it just comes off your real credit card or you go to Customer Relations and pay cash.


              INAUGURAL CANARY ISLAND CRUISE
              So, my Independence of the Seas really was the most fabulous holiday I could have shared with my dear lady friend. There was so much good feeling about it being the inaugural cruise to the Canary Islands, both on the ship and when we went ashore. Most places did official welcomes and we got hats, brochures, music and generally a cheerful welcome for the new ship.


              A LITTLE COMMENT.......
              I have to say there was a matter I would report as more of a comment than a complaint - we had the most stunning stateroom, with a huge, round window - it was so beautiful, a good size with two beautifully presented twin beds, huge wardrobe and free digital safe, a sofa and four tasteful pieces of artwork on the walls, a hollywood style make-up mirror with feature lights, a long mirror, fridge, hairdryer and a flat-screen tv with over 40 channels, electric jug for making your own tea and coffee. Amidst all this style and comfort and they put 2 plastic/paper type mugs for drinking your beverage from. I thought it let the room down a little; porcelain cups and saucers would have been more fitting.


              MY ONLY COMPLAINT.... for me it's a 'biggy'
              I do have a real disappointment and it bugged be before we boarded and during the cruise. It was the tipping/gratuity edict. I'd read in the pre-sail information the amounts we were supposed to give to the Head Waiter, waiter and assistant to the waiter and our house-cleaning lady. I thought the ''recommendation'' really high and it was simmering in the back of my mind quite a bit.

              As the cruise progressed I was sitting next to a fellow cruiser on a shuttle bus and he said that the mentioned crew members do not get a salary but rely on our tips. I told him that I did not believe that for a minute. Upon my return to the ship I mentioned it to our fellow dining-room table guests and they too thought it would not work that way. I undertook to find out the next day. I went to the ship's booking office and asked a congenial Welshman if it was true. To my horror he said it was. It seems these crew members get a US$50 sort of retainer per month and the rest of their wages is from the guests tips/gratuities.

              This actually annoyed me and I told the young man that it really meant we were paying their wages and I didn't think we should have to do that and also it sort of took the shine off the excellent service they were proffering to us. I sort of felt it was a bit false - they were being so good just to get a payment from us. He said ''It is the American way, I know you Brits are having a little difficulty with it but it is accepted by the Americans and this is an American ship''. Well that may be so but it still stuck in my craw. He added, ''just look at the service they give you and you will think it is worthwhile''. If my friend and I had agreed to the gratuities level presented in the ships letter to us we would have paid USA$111 each - when you add it on to the price we paid for the fare - GBP844 it actually means the cruise cost us over GBP900.00.

              Well it is my opinion that a person should be paid by the ship's owners/operators and the level of service should be because they like and want us to enjoy our meal or be in pleasant, clean staterooms. What we pay for ''service'' should be what we feel we want to ''reward'' them with. Some of you may not agree with me but this is my opinion and I feel comfortable with it. Anyway, those at our dining table decided on one figure in British Pounds and that we would pool it into one envelope and the head waiter could share it out. I do not know if they were appreciative of that or not. I guess I will know if a curse descends upon me in coming weeks!
              So, my only complaint is one of administration and not anything to do with the presentation of the Independence of the Seas.

              Another thing which may be a little negative was that I thought the beauty treatments were highly priced so here are some prices for your consideration as to whether I am being fair or not - Swedish Massage (50 minutes) USA$119; Lime and Ginger Exfoliation (50 mins) USA$155, Couples Massage (50 mins) USA269. Aromaspa Seaweed Massage (85mins) USA$195, and Elemis Absolute Spa Ritual (100 mins) USA$264. You could go on a cheaper package on Ladies Day - we went for a USA$120 50 minute back massage, facial, foot massage and a little scalp finish off.

              SOME STATISTICS
              Not sure if you want to know all this but it may be of interest to those who want to cruise on the largest passenger ship in world (at least until late 2009 when Royal Caribbean launches another ship it is having built right now - Oasis of the Seas - which will take 5000 passengers and have a New York-style park onboard!).
              LENGTH: 1112.2 feet, 339.0 metre. BEAM: 184.0 feet, 56.0 metres.
              ORIGINAL COST: $590 million
              BUILT IN: Finland by Kvaerner Masa-Yards.
              LAUNCHED: in Southampton late April 2008.
              PASSENGERS: (Lower beds/all berths: 3600-depending on configuration, can be up to 4370.
              STATE-ROOMS: 1800 (Including: Presidential family suite with 5 rooms, Royal suite, Superior Oceanview, Deluxe Oceanview with a balcony, Interior promenade view, and the interior (no view) - just to name a few.
              SHOW LOUNGE: Alhambra Theatre, over 5 decks, hydraulic orchestra pit, sonic boom loud sound, superb lighting.

              Now you really do need to know this - it will tip your cruise buying decision - they use 75,000 eggs in one week! That did it for you - I am sure!.

              ITINERARY
              Southampton, Madiera, Teneriffe, Gran Canaria, Lazarote, Lisbon and Vigo with 4 sea-days... eleven nights, 12 days.

              PRICES.
              These vary on what grade accommodation you prefer and and it does pay to shop around - the cruise booking companies do offer good early-booking discounts but if you buy onboard Royal Caribbean does discount and offer a USA$200 onboard spend.

              Our GBP844 will not be offered again as it was an extra cruise put on because the ship was finished early and we were assured onboard that price will not be available again. Indeed, I have booked for next year in October and the lowest price I could get for interior stateroom was GBP1095 per person and that includes an early booking fee.

              Sorry this is SO long, I have tried to abridge it - failed miserably I am afraid. Hope you enjoyed this review and aren't too tired out reading it.!!!

              Independence of the Seas is huge on quality, service and facilities - you can luxuriate while enjoying the very best in holiday cruise mode..... formal or informal - whichever mood takes you. We loved every single minute of our cruise and recommend it for quality, value for travel money spend and an ideal way to meet people who appreciate the best.
              (Also on Ciao)

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                01.03.2008 13:04
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                Family, friendly campsite in high country New Zealand

                Blue lakes, mountain peaks, birds singing and bacon and eggs crackling on the skillet...
                Wake up in one of New Zealand's many camping grounds, to summertime heaven, at Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park, nestled beside the Southern Alps in the South Island.

                Early morning fishing in Lake Ruataniwha, as the sun rises it is quiet and so peaceful - it's only a short walk back to the campsite to stir your fellow campers out of bed and up for another 32 degree New Zealand summer day.

                At New Year this year (2008) there were around 4000 campers settled in to Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park and it really did not feel at all like Piccadilly Station - there's so many huge, established trees and with some of the camp set up for formal camping and all the electricity, water and ablutions you will need to use, to room for a little tent, the portable cooker and your bicycle you should find a spot to set up base to explore all the McKenzie country has to offer.

                Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park has not always been a base for holiday-makers accommodation. It is in fact part of the benefits the Upper Waitaki Power Station brought when the massive power project came to the area in the early 1970s.

                Previously, Twizel, four kilometres away, was just a tussock bareland. When the power project got underway, Twizel was built as a temporary village in the sight of Mount Cook but after the project wound down the town stayed and thrived along with a brand new 50 acre camping ground beside Lake Ruataniwha.

                There are 27 cabins of standard and tourist class, 130 powered sites, unlimited tent sites, two amenity blocks with kitchens, toilets, gas-showers and a coin operated laundry. Kitchens have recently been upgraded and also includes an outdoor barbecue area, covered against all-day sun.

                The campsite is hardly able to be seen from the Max Smith Drive road which sweeps above it and down to the entrance road to the camp. This is quite a historic naming of a road in the area as the main Project Engineer was Max Smith and he was indirectly responsible for the international rowing course which is now a major attraction for campers in Lake Ruataniwha Camping ground.

                Rowers book into the campsite - some in caravans, tents, mobile homes or use the little cabins set into the well designed campsite and the new motel-like block. Your choice of accommodation is rather a casual affair - we booked a few months before New Year and the wonderfully friendly, carefree camp manager met us upon arrival and changed his mind about where we should park our caravan - who knows why but I think it was as minor as the new site he offered us had a longer electric cable!

                Have to say, the new site was just right for us: near the kitchen/ablution block, lots of playing space for the grandchildren away from the busy camp-road and a tree or two to get under as the 32 degree days descended upon us....... expect long, hot, cloud-free days as you relax, chill out in this family-friendly camping ground.

                We stayed 12 nights and they were every one fantastic. We had a New Year party with our camping friends and the only disappointment was that we could not let off our huge bag of fire-crackers and there was a fire ban on due to the many trees all around the park. Never mind, there was plenty of cracking hospitality as we all ''first-footed'' around the camp as 2008 rolled in.

                It never fails to amaze me the variation of tents, mobile homes, caravans and pop-tops you see in campsites. At Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park some people have permanent sites set up with strong fences defining their space so they leave their accommodation set up for all year-round. I do not know the cost of this but if you live an hour or two away from the camp I guess it is like having a ''bach'' or second home to get away to over the weekend. Ideal thought and I am sure the walk-in, walk-out aspect is appreciated by lots of Kiwi's in the South Island. Some even take their pets - we saw dogs romping all over the camp - but you would of course need to take a responsible stance about dog doo-doos!

                Casual campers who don't have more formal accommodation like a caravan or camper van can make use of the barbecues all around the camp, there is a tv/video room and a small library so when you are hiking/cycling around you still have use of some of the finer things of life.

                Now, have to be honest here, there was a huge down-side to camping at Lake Ruataniwha Camp site in January 2008. New Year Day was full capacity and the sewerage founded. For several hours in the afternoon there was no water available and no flush at the toilets. This caused huge problems and a flurry of fixing for a team of experts to restore these services. It did happen a second time and campers were not too pleased. The camp manager told my partner that they would be closing the camp for a few days at the end of January and putting in a whole new system.

                So, hopefully the water-works will be much improved for future campers at this casual-friendly-well presented campsite, where you meet people from all walks of life - all happy to settle in and create their own little home-away-from home for one night or several months.

                Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park is in fact a great place to base yourself in the High Country of the McKenzie's South Island paradise - and it has a reasonable tariff for those on a budget or those wanting to book in and blob out for a month or two.

                Tent and power sites: $13 to $15 NZ. Standard cabins sleep 1-6 $42-$45 for 2 adults. Tourist cabins sleep 1-6 $55 for 2 adults. Motels sleep up to 4 -$110-$130 for two. (May have changed recently!) You can use Eftpos and get a card phone at the camp shop which is a good place to meet and greet ,near the children's play area. In the height of summer you will go through security here, which is encouraging to know there is only camper vehicles allowed inside the camp.

                At the office/shop you can hire coolers, mountain bikes, canoes and get a fishing licence - absolutely necessary for all fishing in this vast recreational area.... if you don't want to fish you may like a 45minute drive up to see New Zealand's highest mountain - Mount Cook (Aoraki), or picnic/boat/jet-ski on the many lakes, walk up to the magnificent lime-rocks, and swim or just laze around the lake which sits beside Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park.

                How to get there: turn off State Highway 8 - (Omarama to Twizel road) it is well signposted - drive along Max Smith Drive until you see the camp signs on your left.

                Address: Max Smith Drive, Twizel. P.O.Box 83, Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.
                Contact phone: 0064 3 435 0613

                Camping is not everyone's cup of tea - but if you do appreciate the great outdoors - Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park is a great place to stay and just think of all the new friends you will make while exploring the best of New Zealand's high country.

                My lasting memory - pleasant evenings, supping on fine New Zealand wine and nibbling on the finest of food on the platter......and best of all - good friends who appreciate a camp site where people really can camp in confidence of their safety, have fun and all in a well maintained and clean campsite.

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                  11.11.2007 16:02
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                  Great holiday destination, memorable island

                  Mallorca or Majorca? What's the answer.

                  Well, when you first get there you think that it doesn’t really matter but for the record , Majorca is a name visitors have given this absolutely beautiful Mediterranean island. Locals call it Mallorca, they live the Mallorcan lifestyle.

                  It's the largest of the Balearic islands, 200 km south of Barcelona, off the east coast of Spain.

                  So now you know where it is, you will want to know why you should go there. For us, we were eagerly awaiting our first-ever cruise and the offer of a week-stay on Majorca, before that experience, was too good to pass up.

                  Tony Kelly’s The AA Pocket Guide MALLORCA, was my bible. For months I’d read it and absorbed so much information, planned to visit what looked like exciting and interesting places, diverse activities and historic sites. So, this is my story but have to say I was well versed by the expert before I ever set foot on the island.

                  I had some perception of the neat week ahead but it is fair to say I had no idea I was going to be so excited by the warmth of the weather in October, the sheer gobsmacking scenery as we explored the island via the Soller Train, underground in the Coves del Drac (Caves of Drach), the huge, fascinating Inca Market, an Oktoberfest in Peguera, Mini-golf at the truly beautiful Golf Fantasia in Palma Nova and strolling along a clean, sandy beach at sunset. Oh, must not forget the delightful, tasty drinks, great food and hospitality!

                  Majorca is devine. It is obviously highly motivated by tourism, and in some parts of the island this brings criticism for being a bit tatty, but for me, October did not show this as much as it may for height of summer holiday-makers. In fact, we stayed in Magalluf which, along with Palma Nova, is probably the main area of ‘tatty’ criticism but we did not find it to be so, the shops were themed around the beach, souvenirs and jewellery, with lots of café, bars and restaurants as you walk around but whether you shop or not is up to you. We did a couple of strolls around the shops both day and night but most of our time was spent traveling all over the island, taking in sites, sounds and new experiences.

                  And there were plenty of them.

                  It’s hard for me to pick out one highlight. So I’ve put all my subjects into a hat and picked them out randomly. They all get equal billing in my view. I’ve not looked to see if any of them are a separate subject to review so will keep them all shorter and at some time in the future there’s a chance some may be fully reviewed by me! Including them here just helps to give you a bit of an idea why Majorca should feature as your next holiday destination.

                  PIRATES show and dinner.
                  This is the most exciting, thrilling, expertly presented dinner/show I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s been a national and international success, winning awards for many years. It’s a bit of a dual between goody and baddy pirates with the audience involved along the way. Gymnastics, acrobatics and high streamer/wire work, what a grand performance. Can you imagine one pirate standing with feet flat on the floor and another pirate upside-down on his shoulders: the two of them only joined by shoulders ....if this was not spine-chilling enough the one on the floor walked around the stage with his mate finely balanced on his shoulders. I was expecting them to join hands at least. No, only shoulders to connect them. At the finale they did similar and the bottom pirate walked UP a string/rope wall! Words cannot describe the utter disbelief I felt that such a feat was possible. My only disappointment here was that it was quite expensive to go to the show and the dinner part of it let the evening down, in my opinion and that of some others around us.

                  THE COVES DEL DRAC tour
                  It’s pitch black, deadly quiet and a little light comes on to the right of the underground lake before you. Violin sounds quietly come across the blackness ....lights increase as a little boat moves towards you, there is a violin quartet aboard, playing haunting, beautiful music on Lake Martel in the Caves of Drach..... the Dragon Caves.

                  Two more boats flow in as the lights increase, and the music flows and you are awestruck through four classical creations. It all comes to a fantastic, thrilling end with a Palma sunset light show. Then you are invited into the boats for a little row across the lake before walking up through the caves with eerie stalagtites and stalagmites sending your imagination into overdrive.

                  From the time you enter, to climbing the steep walk out you have oohed and aahhed through two kilometres of gobsmacking underground features. This is a must when visiting Majorca.

                  On the way back to Palma the tour included a visit to a pearl factory. This was interesting because they advertise the pearls as undistinguishable from the real ones. This may be so but we both thought there would be an element of ‘’growing’‘ something to, over a period of time, create a living ‘’something’‘. What a shock we got. Ushered upstairs to a demonstration we saw a lady behind a glass shield; she took a rod in one hand, a long cylinder of glass in the other and put them together in front of a ‘’bunsen-burner-type heating device’‘ and the glass melted into a ball on the rod and there was the ‘’PEARL”“..... a glass bead in effect. I guess it then got dunked in something and entered the chain of creating a ‘’pearl’‘ for jewellery. Having said that, the finished products shown in the showroom were, to be honest, fantastic jewellery settings; superb and very expensive. So I now know a Majorcan pearl is stunning, it lustres and shines; it is an authentic Majorcan Pearl but it is not a pearl in the sense of a pearl being a growing thing, a creation which takes time before being manufactured into ‘’real pearl jewellery’‘.

                  A pleasant liqueur experience took the ‘’bitter taste’‘ of our pearl disappointment out of our mouths. We went from the pearl factory to a super tourist shop and were invited to take a little glass and help ourselves to any of the 15-20 barrels of liqueurs. Heaven on a Sunday morning. I bought a little bottle of Blackberry Schnapps to share around the camp fire over my New Zealand summer break at Christmas and New Year. It will be a fun way to remember a tasty, fun experience on this bus tour.

                  SOLLER TRAIN AND PORT SOLLER
                  This was my birthday treat and we did it on our own. Thought a tour would be a bit restricting so we set off on the bus from Magalluf to Palma and I should mention here that the bus system is good. We used the public bus system and found it to be okay: except for day one when a bus came up to the stop and only took on a couple of people so we said to a young couple do you want to share a taxi into Palma: we did and it was quick, shared cost was not too bad and dropped us beside the cathedral. All other bus trips were fine and dandy.
                  Back to Soller Train. We rushed to the Piaca d Espanya in Palma to get a ticket as we wanted to be on the Tourist Train, 10.50am Turistico, because it stops to give to panoramic views over a mountain village. Any of the five trains a day would be okay for the one and a half hour journey, through a 3km tunnel in the vintage carriages of brass fittings and mahogany panels. It really is a fantastic experience and the scenery along the way is beautiful. (Heard it was a bone-crushing experience but it was not too rough at all!)

                  At Soller you can sit around and enjoy the square’s many cafes and restaurants but we took the ‘’Orange Express’‘ 5-km trip on the tram to Port Soller and along the way we peered into backyards, saw orange groves and animals grazing. It was truly neat. Port Soller is stunning and I took many photos, walking, shopping and for a birthday treat we sat on the waterfront and shared a huge plate of ‘’little fish’‘ fried in breadcrumbs, accompanied by a fine white wine. Heaven. Turning 59 will be especially memorable for me as the day I did the historic, electric Soller train and relaxed in all the beauty of Port Soller. On the way back the Soller Train broke down and we had a near hour-long wait for another train to bring something up the mountain to get us underway again. Just another travel ‘event’ which you have to expect when taking in the sights of the world.

                  INCA MARKET
                  We did this as a bus tour and were glad we did as the tour guide was exceptionally good in advising us about the area and what to watch out for in the island’s biggest market. Held on a Thursday it is huge, taking in many, many streets of stalls with a huge variety of products: leather is big, Majorcan pearls and other jewellery, clothes, food, souvineers and other local craft abound. We were told to be sure to haggle as the stall holders expect it. I saw an African woman on a stall with a tiny little baby: both dressed in traditional gear and they looked just fantastic. I asked the woman how old her baby was, she said four weeks so I asked if I could take a photo of her and her baby - faster than a speeding bullet she said “five euros’‘. I told her I was not paying and left miffed that I’d missed out on a wonderful photo opportunity.

                  I did haggle and believe it or not it was for a 3-piece set of Majorcan Pearls (NB...before my factory visit!) I bought at what later turned out to be a very good price when we looked around retail outlets on the island. Inca Market is really well worth going to and I only wished we’d had more time there, especially when our next place was Festival Park (Labels type complex) as I thought it not as cheap as they dubbed it to be.

                  GOLF FANTASIA
                  Fun, laughs and two sore knees. Well not usually for the thousands of visitors a week but sadly for me my ‘form’ was effected by a silly fall half way round the 3-course mini golf game - just when I was winning too. It definitely changed my form and HE beat me in the end. Not even aching knees could mar my absolute delight in playing in this superb park of waterfalls, caves, little streams, ponds, fish and live turtles, chirping budgerigars and truly stunning tropical rainforest in Palma Nova.
                  It is a family attraction and when we were there it was full, people of all ages going for par. Most holes are 2 or 3 par and quite easy but a bit of a challenge when your ball keeps going off the course and spiralling many feet down to the pond below! Twice for me!


                  OKTOBERFEST
                  We were really lucky as we were there for the four-day authentic German Oktoberfest at Peugera. We took off on a bus tour and after a bit of a false start we found the little beach-side town and the huge blue and white marquee.
                  What a hoot. The real thing in music, food, beer and lots of German maidens. (I’m sure I should have used the German word for maidens but it just escapes me right now!) The scenery on the way out was stunning, hills, seaside vistas, little towns and a good look at Majorcan life, outside the bus window. The beach here was apparently the first man-made beach on Majorca, not obvious on my little stroll around the ‘huts’ and a female bare-top or two! (As you may have guessed we don’t have ‘’dress-optional’‘ beaches in New Zealand.)


                  PALMA CATHEDRAL AND L’ALMUDAINA PALACE
                  We didn’t have time to go into the newer part of Palma so this is a little look at the Cathedral and Old Palma around it and the Almudaina Palace.
                  La Seu (Palma Cathedral) is imposing on the landscape from sea or land. It is really beautiful on the outside and a bit different on the inside. We strolled around saying that it was truly beautiful and a bit different but couldn’t really say why. It has a stunning Rose stain-glass window, (apparently one of the world’s biggest - 1236 pieces of glass, it’s 12 m across) very large, gold statue and crosses, interesting side altars and a Gaudi Crown of Thorns hanging above the altar, but still I am not sure why it is so different. The cloisters are where you can see some of the original implements which were used to construct Palma Cathedral.

                  Beside the Cathedral and from the exterior it sort of melds in with the cathedral is Palau De L’Almudaina, an impressive royal palace featuring Moorish arches which are best seen from the waterfront. We did the tour and it was amazing how warm this old, stone building was. We peeked into the Arab baths, strolled in the palm courtyard and visited the little Capella de Santa Ana chapel. A museum now, it offers a glimpse into Palma’s interesting history: I loved the ancient tapestries and a truly fantastic old clock piece. (I did something I said I would never do here, I took a photo of the clock - disobeying the ‘no photos’ order. I’m not proud as I fully realise the conservation aims which enable such treasures to be best presented for generations to come so I will not do it again!)

                  We took a stroll into the Old Palma sector and it was just as I had imagined. Narrow streets, stunning windows and doors which are a favourite of mine when site-seeing. Lovely little shops and people sitting around taking in the scene, relaxing and having a chat. Loved the doors on the Basillica de Sant Francesc, liked the little courtyards and saw some neat jewellery shops - if only the credit card was a little more elastic!

                  Palma looks fantastic from the waterfront and I was keen to do Tony Kelly’s suggested waterfront walk but time ran out so next time I go I’ll do that and the Palma city walk. There is so much to do you should book for at least a couple of weeks and be well prepared before you go.

                  Majorca statistics: it’s 100km from east to west and 75km from north to south. It has 555km of coastline and in that area there are 80 beaches. The central plain is divided by the Serra de Tramuntana and Serra de Llevant mountain ranges. Average daily maximum temperatures are around 21.4oC and throughout the year expect an average of seven hours of sunshine.

                  There was no way you could see all of Majorca in a week, we did something everyday at the expense of sitting around the resort pool and missing most of its entertainment programme: we were in Majorca to see Mallorca (the way Mallorcan’s live) and we certainly did.

                  We didn’t do any activities centred around the beach or sea activities but for those who are interested in these there are so many operators who are geared up to service this side of your holiday. I guess you’d only need to go on a Majorca internet site to see the diverse activities on offer on the island. You would have all you need if you buy the ‘’bible’‘ I mentioned near the beginning of the review.

                  Getting there: we flew on a package but you can make use of many cheapies which come up all the time. Some people visit on a day-trip while cruising but for most it will be via Palma’s huge and highly efficient airport. It is massive but you can move through it very easily with good signage. It has a truly modern look about it with all the usual shops, relaxing areas, ablutions and plenty of help on hand. (At busy times of the year over 700 flights land here and numbers sometimes total around 100,000 a day... huge figures.) There are plenty of ferries from mainland Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean.

                  Accommodation: we used the Sol Magalluf Park resort and it was most acceptable (apart from the fact that the reception man was abysmal but after that all went well), there are many resorts of differing tarriffs, hotels and of course there will be self-catering apartments. There are over 200,000 hotel beds and 60,000 apartments so you should be able to book in somewhere.

                  Getting around: there are hosts of buses, quite modern too, reasonably priced fares and each bus stop has plenty of information about the route and times you could expect a bus, (give and take a little!) Taxis seemed a little expensive if you are going a longer distance but the guide says to ask what the fare is before you get in so there are no surprises when you reach your destination. That applies to anywhere in the world really. Day tours are a most efficient way to see lots of Majorca; it seems most hotel reception areas have dedicated tour desks so you can book with several tour operators who attend them at a given time each day.

                  We saw some tourist ferry-type boats which apparently take you out on the sea to experience the coast line which is really lovely from the air as you fly in or out. We saw hire/rental car offices so no doubt if you like to drive this is an option. We considered hiring a little scooter for a bit of a whirl but then decided against it - looked out the window one day and saw some much more senior citizens than us arriving back at the hotel on tiny little electric cycles - they were game.

                  So, if you want sun, sea, history, magnificent scenery, good food, diverse shopping, relaxation, new experiences, then consider a Mediterranean holiday on an island that has it all, and more. When you leave you may well feel like I did . I went to Majorca as a visitor .... I learned, experienced and appreciated this island so much, I moved on - now it’s definitely Mallorca.

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                    28.10.2007 15:03
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                    A wonderful week enjoying Meditteranean delights.

                    The thing of dreams, a cruise in the Meditteranean...the dream came true - A beautiful sunset, sailaway music playing, I have a cocktail- of- the day in my hand as the ship slowly moves away from Palma wharf - I am on my first ever cruise.

                    For months I've been perusing the Island Escape brochure and popping into the internet to familiarise myself.... it has been the focus of my holiday thoughts as I worked away, saving for the dream.

                    Age has dimmed thoughts of romantic Di Caprio nights, perching precariously over the front of the ship with a handsome movie star crooning to me; my expectations were of the best of food, presented well, fresh and exciting. Add a few fine wines, cocktails or a cold beer as would take our fancy, relaxing on the deck, matched with a clean, tidy cabin, friendly, interesting staff, with tours of some exciting countries and that’s about what I visualized for our week on the warm Mediterranean sea.

                    RELAXED, FRIENDLY AND INFORMAL... the motto for Island Cruises
                    For 99percent of our week-long voyage I can say the huge number of staff worked hard to make sure the motto was successfully experienced by the 1600 passengers onboard Island Escape, one of the two cruise ships operated by Island Cruises.

                    We did a stay and cruise - one week in Majorca before our cruise week and we are glad we did. Neither of us had visited this part of the world before so staying at Magalluf proved a good base to explore all over the island and of course to anticipate the leisurely, relaxed cruise ahead.

                    We were picked up by First Choice and on the bus tour to the ship we were given a pack which included the coloured tag for our bags, a credit card form to fill in if we intended to use it to pay for on-board expenses, our cabin number and information about tummy troubles: we had to declare if we’d had any gastric problems in the past three days.

                    The welcome and paper work for embarkation was pleasant, quick and efficient: as we are not UK passport holders our New Zealand passports were taken from us and were to be held at the Guest Relations office and I have to say as a seasoned traveler, who is never without her passport, I was a bit tetchy about this but rules are rules and we had to conform.

                    Now, we moved forward to what we thought was a neat idea as we arrived - our photo taken as we boarded the ship, BUT, it later evolved to be a bit of a bore actually as every time to left the ship there was a photographer leaping up in front of you wanting you to pose for yet another way to make a profit on the side. The photos cost 9.95GBP so if you succumbed to the posing every day it would soon add up.

                    After our personal escort to our cabin on the lowest deck, Aqua 3, our luggage soon arrived and we did a quick unpacking in our tidy and well presented cabin. We could have gone into the town but we decided not to go into Palma but to explore the ship. I am glad we did. It was a relaxing way to slip into cruising mode and to see some fantastic views of Palma from a new angle.

                    LET’S GET TO KNOW THE SHIP: This really is an entire community on the waves. Island Escape has restaurants, bars, shops, a gym, beauty and personal services like nail art, hair-dressing etc etc with sport, entertainment, outdoor recreation, theatres, casino, photo gallery/shop, library, internet room, kids play area, as well as a doctor’s surgery. There’s even a daily issue of ‘island chat’ to keep you informed of what is going on that day and any information you need to know for tomorrow.

                    You would be hard to please if there was not something to hold your interest in the vast and varied on-board entertainments and activities, day and night. If you don’t want to stay on board all day there are tour days out on all but the first day when you spend the time at sea en route to Sicily.

                    There is an introductory ‘on-shore tour presentation’, As well as a special desk dedicated to tours which you find listed on a special information sheet to clearly outline what the tour involves and the price, In some cases I thought them a little on the dear side but if you don’t want to do them you can do your own thing when in port, on or off the ship. Prices ranged from 18GBP for a 4-hour tour to 48GBP for an 8 hour day trip, with a special Barcelona helicopter ride for 85GBP.

                    So here I am on my cruise of a life-time and it’s time to consider is this what I expected and is it meeting my expectations? There are many positives to talk about and a couple of negatives ranging from a little niggle to an incident which put me off my fettle a bit. More on that later.

                    The itinerary attracted me in the first place and as we progressed around the Mediterranean I can say I was not disappointed: Palma to embark, then a night and day sailing to Messina in Sicily where we chose to go on a half day Taormina tour which was truly beautiful. Good guide, great scenery and an idyllic town perching high on the side of a mountain with views of Mt Etna. Here we did a town walking tour and visited the Greek Theatre ruins - fantastic.

                    That night the captain announced he was doing a detour on our way to Naples to show us an active volcano in the middle of the sea, Stromboli, he expected to arrive beside it at around 10pm. He did. What a stunning nocturnal experience. He turned off all outside lights, stopped the motors and the red glow on top of the mountain grew brighter and brighter until a mighty blow of red-hot embers burst up into the air, then rolled over the crest and down the mountain. We all wowed and yelled and he blew the ship’s horn. Not once but five times in the 30-40 minutes we were treated to such a spectacle. Sadly my camera is a little one and not able to pick up the action but it will remain in my memory for the rest of my life. Stunning! Exhilarating!

                    From Naples we took the Pompeii half day tour which was a return visit for me but the first time for my partner. Both of us loved every minute of the two and a half hour visit. It is dreadful that so many had to die so treacherously - it is humbling to walk around this history that has so dramatically provided an opportunity for us to appreciate and learn how they experienced life 2000 years ago. The bakery with its buns, a pregnant woman’s agony, a contorting dog, caught in time, evidence depicting a horrific historic day when Mount Vesuvius blew tragically into the local community.

                    On our return to Naples we experienced the world renown dreadful traffic on the roads near the port. We decided to go on a walk into the shopping area and had to cross about three pedestrian crossings and I can tell you my travel insurance was so close to being activated. What a madness it is to invoke your right to cross on the zebra lines! Along with other intrepid pedestrians we took our chances and finally traversed the danger zone - you need a gold medal to actually go into town and get back to the ship.

                    On to Livorno, Italy, where many passengers went on the all-day Florence-Pisa trip but we opted for a five-hour tour into medieval Lucca and then a vineyard in Tuscany, with a long-distance peek at the Leaning Tower of Pisa from afar as we motored by. Our little town visit was enhanced as it was the third Sunday of the month and many of the narrow streets and piazzas were taken up with the Antiquity Fair. Great, wonderful, marvellous and any other adjectives you can think up. Then we also visited the cathedral which was the main focus of the visit to see famous paintings of Tintoretto and Ghirlandaio as well as some historic, religious artefacts.

                    On to the vineyard and the extremely cold, freezing afternoon prevented us from strolling amid the vines but lengthened the wine tasting and local delicacy nibbling - you can’t complain about that.

                    Next port of call was Toulon in South France where we chose the half-day Marseilles tour and what a treat that was. The drive there was a beautiful introduction to a Provence.experience The size of Marseilles really surprised us. It has 14 ports and we went to the old one where there was a fishing market alongside the pier where the fishing boats tie up.

                    We went to the magnificent Cathedral which dominates high on the hill and has the most awe-inspriring gold work wherever you look in the creative, stylish interior. Truly magnificent and a must if in Marseilles.

                    In Barcelona we decided to do our own thing and visited Las Ramblas and of course the world-famous market...... once again it proved to be a huge buzz for me and my partner was suitably impressed on his first visit. As he was also with the marina after a stroll along there on our way back to the ship.

                    ALL IMPORTANT FOOD AND HOSPITALITY: Now when you think of cruising food and hospitality come to mind. Island Escape does food well, in the presentation, variety, creativity and freshness there was not much to fault in any of the three non-smoking restaurants: Beachcomber (24-hour) buffet/casual, Island Restaurant (open three times a day) with a more formal/buffet and Oasis where you are served at the table but you had to pay for the meal and it was definitely more formal with a much higher quality of food. In here you could buy the four-course meal for two at a cost of 24.95 - some nights they did a special and added a bottle of wine in that price. All restaurants had a hand-washing unit which every diner had to use before entering the restaurants.

                    You paid for all drinks and refreshments in the English Pub/Sundowner, Mirage, Sailaway, Ocean Theatre, Lookout Lounge, Café Brasil, the Bounty Lounge and the casino, all opened varying hours of the day and night. Smoking was allowed in at least one bar which we decided was out of bounds for us non-smokers. (Drinks prices were quite reasonable with the chance to buy a beer and two cocktails (2.40GBP) each day, a reduced price; this is what we did and found it to be an interesting way to go through the cocktail menu - sorry I cannot give other prices as I cannot remember them.)

                    PAYING ON BOARD: When you arrive you are given a plastic (credit-card sized) card with your name, cruise date and a code on it. It matches with a photo you had taken by the person who does your registration and this little personal card is your ‘’currency’‘ on board. You use it to buy all drinks, shop purchases and meals in the Oasis Restaurant as well as day tours etc. It is also your ‘’passport’‘ to getting on and off the ship. As you leave, staff put it through a machine and your photo comes up on a television screen so it really is important and must not be lost. If you do mislay it they can issue another one for around three pounds, I think. GBP is the currency rate used and you will pay for all your plastic card entries in cash or by your credit card at the end of the cruise. This can be a surprise if you don’t keep a bit of a check on spending as you go. Some passengers were commenting that it seemed like staff were hovering to take what money they could out of you with a bit of pressure on taking your photo for sales of these and a constant offer of drinks etc. I personally did not feel this and thought the spending is really up to the passenger’s own choice and when we left the ship we just looked down at the ground and didn’t let the photo people ‘capture’ us.
                    TIP: if paying by credit card you are given a bill on the last night and if it is correct they just use the card and you do not have to queue up to pay like those paying cash. Guest Relations was as busy as Piccadilly Station on the last morning.

                    A LOOK AT THE SHIP IN GENERAL: As we walked along the corridor of our lowest deck accommodation I thought the walls were a bit tatty and wondered what our cabin would be like. I need not have worried, it was really well presented: clean, tidy, a good first reaction. We were on the outside so we had two portholes and I liked the idea of seeing outside. There were two single beds, a wardrobe each, a huge mirror with side lights, a set of drawers, desk, chair and a television which didn’t get much really but did give you the chance to view three movies a day, the safety dvd, constantly, and a webcam of outside of the ship with some other information too. We had a tidy, little ensuite which even had a washing line for drying smalls.

                    Our housemaid was really lovely, she was friendly and efficient. Some passengers reported their towels were crafted into a monkey, elephant and swan sculptures: I had my black negligee folded into a fan - cute. Cabins cleaned and tidied twice a day which was excellent and when you come back in the evening the lights are turned on ... a personal touch, nice. As with other hospitality places there is a move to be ‘’green’‘ so you put your towel on the floor if you want it changed but if not you hang it up so there’s not too much unnecessary laundry done.

                    ACTIVITIES
                    There were heaps of things to do, I chose a chefs demonstration of some of the meals and his assistants did absolutely fantastic fruit, vegetable and marzipan sculptures. The head chef told us he has 72 cooks on board and that they take on 800lbs of potatoes and 600lbs of chicken for a week-long cruise.

                    I also went to the cocktail-making demonstration and this proved to be a winner for those who could remember what he put into them as they ended up drinking them. Not me, my memory is not as good as it used to be. Pity!

                    Staff/passenger relations, except for the case I will share later, were exceptionally good. One night a diner next to me told the waiter she was impressed with her towel sculpture she found in her room. He offered to show us how to make a cloth serviette peacock. What a hoot. It was almost impossible to show us two amateurs but believe it or not, after half an hour and many laughs I actually managed to make one. My peacock adorned a wine glass and was quite a ‘proud’ creation on our table. Another night a waiter made me a delightful paper serviette rose on a stem! Super.

                    I’ve picked out at random one day’s programme just to illustrate the diverse activities and entertainments you could choose from on the cruise. Saturday 20 October, 2007.
                    JOIN US ASHORE TODAY: trips to Florence and Pisa, Florence at your own pace, The Power of Pisa, Taste of Tuscany, Pisa and Puccini’s lake.
                    RELAX AND ENJOY: Giant Games Open, Daily Brainteaser and crossword, deck games, Hole in one Golf, Circuit class, deck shuffleboard, radio time, table tennis knockout tournament, Killer Darts, deck quoites, Quiet hour and adult swim time, Free arcade games, pilates class, poolside trivia quiz, Sailaway music, towel folding demonstration, Teens programme.
                    Evening programme - Andy Wilkins (comedian) show, Bingo Flyer, Team trivia, race night, pre-recorded ballroom dancing, themed music quiz, jackpot bingo, late night cabaret with Kerri Ankrah Lucas and on the Sundowner Deck there was live entertainment by Frankie De Soto, Steven Elliott and Starliters with midnight partying in the Lookout Deck 12. In the Beachcomber restaurant, an Italian Night theme and on Deck 10 a Tropical Deck Party with Captain David Bathgate and the Island Escape Senior Officers!

                    This gives you an idea of what is on offer and of course you can spend time eating, anytime of day or night at the Beachcomber indoor/outdoor restaurant, high up on the boat, where you’ll be able to get a cup of tea or coffee, fruit juices and something to eat at your leisure.

                    NIGGLES AND NEGATIVES:
                    I wish there was nothing to inform about here but there was.
                    A niggle to me but a Nostradamus Negative for many of the mainly English passengers was the fact that the England v South Africa Rugby World Cup final which played on the Saturday was not available to view onboard. Apparently, according to word-of-mouth, the captain had said he did not have a licence to show it - this did not sit well with the huge percentage of rugby fans so that was a bit of a sour note. My Kiwi (New-Zealand) rugby mad partner asked a young staff member on Sunday morning if he knew the score and he answered: ‘’It is good to leave England behind when you go on a cruise’‘. Oops! Not a good answer to give a rugby committed Kiwi!!)

                    A niggle - my feeling that there was a lack of communication. (I guess they don’t want Hi De Hi announcements interupting passengers peace and quiet all day but some things need addressing) Having decided not to show the game I felt the captain could have included the result in his morning call over the loud speaker. Also, we were held up for over three hours at Naples and apparently he did say something but I did not hear it, so once again rumour advised that a crew member had witnessed an accident on shore and was being interviewed by police. After we sailed I thought he could have informed us of what had happened as it did have a roll-on effect for late arrival next day and booked tours etc.

                    And that brings me to my major negative, also under communication heading. Firstly I was at the ON-SHORE desk changing a full-day tour to a half-day one for the next day and I heard a young woman speak abysmally to a couple who she told in no uncertain terms they could not change a tour because there was not 24-hour notice. It was not their fault the ship was late leaving and she was so rude.

                    And now my biggest complaint ---- On day three we returned from a super day out in Taormina, Sicily to find a formal letter on the bed advising my credit card was not operating and to contact my credit card company to sort it out. It offered me the chance to hand in another credit card or to pay cash for the on-board spend. I did not have bulk English pounds onboard! I phoned New Zealand but it was night time and credit card staff were not on duty so I had to phone again later. When I got through the person said there was absolutely NO reason why my credit card would not work, it was NOT stopped, so it had to be a merchant error. I went downstairs and told the lady and she said she would activate it again but I would have to wait 24hours to see if it worked properly so I should return and check next day. This I did and it all turned to custard.

                    The man said it must be okay as there was nothing written in the book. I in a very pleasant manner told him that I’d expended 15GBP toll calls to New Zealand to be told there was nothing wrong with my credit card so would the company consider letting me use the internet for half an hour - 4.50GBP. He rudely refused and said it was not his company’s fault my credit card was not working and the credit card provider had stopped the card. I pointed out that a Maria had said it was not stopped. His reply, ‘’they always say it is not stopped and while they are talking to you the activate it again’. Well I asked to speak to his manager but he retorted ‘I am the supervisor madam’. Getting no-where with my reasonable request I told him I was not happy and would take it further. He cared not a jot! This soured the cruise for me but I decided that I had saved, budgeted and looked forward to it for many months so why let an officious, young man ruin it for me.... I put it behind me as I recognized that everyone else on staff, apart from two from the front-line ‘’people department’‘, were just fantastic and most efficient. (I have now composed a letter of complaint and will post it off to the Customer Relations department.)

                    ORGANISATION;
                    Procedures for embarking and disembarking at the beginning and end of the cruise were extremely well organised. The departure procedures are clearly outlined on an information sheet which you get the day before you leave. You have to put a coloured tag on your luggage which denotes which flight you will leave on and the bags have to be in the corridor before 2am on the departure morning. You have to vacate your cabin by 8.30 so they open breakfast facilities earlier that day. Then you wait in public areas and when your flight number is called you pass over your plastic ‘passport’‘ for the last time, go on to the wharf and collect your luggage which is in the colour area you have on your tag and then go to the awaiting coach for a 25-minute ride to Palma’s huge and efficient airport. For me, an extremely sad journey as I did not want to leave the ship.

                    THE COST: well it obviously depends if you book through a travel agent, on the phone or as I did on the internet. I booked early in 2007 so got a discount for doing so and the two-week stay-n-cruise cost me 1600GBP for two of us and that was half-board at the resort for one week and full board on the ship. Some I spoke to got late deals and they seemed to be half what I paid so do your homework and book and pay when best suits you and the price you want to pay.

                    SHIP STATISTICS: (not sure if you need to know this, but here goes)
                    Gross registered tonnage - 40132, Overall length, 189.89metres, Beam 27.01metres, draft 6.9metres, Power 19,800kw, diesel engine, maximum 1862 passengers and 612 crew.
                    It was built for a Scandanavian company and underwent a refit for 3-4 day cruises before being transferred to the Island fleet in March 2002.

                    CONCLUSION:
                    So, that out of the way, it is now time to conclude with overall comments about our week-long Island Escape cruise in the Mediterannean and I have pleasure in saying I left the ship wanting to come back.

                    Did my week achieve the Island Escape motto: relaxed, friendly and informal cruises. For 99 percent of the time - YES.

                    I was really quite sad to leave after the seven days of my MEDITERRANEAN SPIRIT cruise and feel a ten day cruise may well be much better as you are just getting used to the size and outlay of the ship, (especially as we were onshore each day). I truly wanted to stay onboard a little longer.

                    The’ league of nations’ staff presented as a fun, friendly team, and this projected into exciting, interesting activities and entertainments day and night...... we visited a new country every day and our hotel went with us. Organization is the answer and most of the Island Escape team seemed to appreciate this and worked extremely hard to make sure every aspect of our cruise of a lifetime was a huge success.

                    As the sun sets on this review, I am already planning another Island cruise, this time on the second week itinerary - or was that dreaming of it? I’ll get out the pencil and start the travel budget planner because I intend to be cruising into the future, now I’ve got the bug.

                    This is a long review, but I do trust it has held your interest as there was a lot to say and I guess after I send it I’ll think of some other interesting facts and information. It is not a posh cruise, but it does not claim to be ..... dress was as formal or as informal as you like - just like the rest of the cruise. Bon Voyage ......

                    (PS.. i trust this is in the right section as I saw another Island Escape story in here...if not, I do apologise to have made a mistake again!)

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                      04.10.2007 21:54
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                      Wonderfully delicious accommodation, all round

                      CHANNINGS HOTEL, EDINBURGH;
                      Arriving in Edinburgh, for full on rugby, our focus was on supporting New Zealand All Blacks, we had to beat Scotland in the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

                      I’d booked the accommodation months in advance and told anyone who would listen that I was incredulous at the price we had to pay on match- night to stay in Edinburgh after the game.

                      Channings Hotel changed our ‘’rugby’‘ weekend focus the minute we walked through the door. First impressions were of truly upmarket accommodation. The reception is tidily tucked to one side with the comfortable sofas as the main feature in this ever so important welcoming area to any hotel.

                      We arrived after staying several nights in hostels and I have to say we felt like we had arrived at Buckingham Palace. Parched from travelling we asked for a cup of coffee as we were too early to go to our room. This was served to us in one of the three or four reception rooms and we certainly enjoyed both the drink and the decor. I thought it would be complementary, due to what I percieve to be the high cost of the hotel room: 150GBP for one night, bed and breakfast - the most I have ever paid for accommodation, but the next day I noticed an add-on of around five pounds for this tray.

                      That is one half of the only little niggle I have about our stay there - we were asked did we want a paper next day and I said yes and I saw that the 45p was also added on - once again I expected it to be complementary - well, included in the price we’d paid to stay in the room.

                      Never mind, every other aspect of hospitality was superb, helping me to smooth over the two small charges - the friendliness of staff, willingness to go that extra mile, superb food, overall cleanliness and opulent presentation were faultless.

                      Some examples of what impressed me were not life-changing but most appreciated when you are away from home and little things present themselves. We came back from the rugby (New Zealand won in case you are interested) and asked what time the restaurant opened, the receptionist asked had we booked and we said we hadn’t. She said it was full but she would talk to the restaurant manager and see if we could be fitted in somewhere. A short time later the phone rang in our sumptuous room and she asked would we like to dine at 8pm. We were delighted as we thought an upmarket meal after a week of hostel self-catering and in-house meals would be a treat.

                      While we were enjoying pre-dinner drinks in the modern-art-walled bar my partner and I had a discussion about where a certain English town was and neither of us could think. I asked the waiter if they had an atlas and within minutes he returned and we settled the question as we supped on our delicious drinks.

                      The dinner was just amazing. The ambience matches the selection of diverse dishes. Our taste buds were tempted by the options and we finally settled on entree, main course and were to make a decision about a dessert after partaking of the first two treats. Well, we were so sated with the extremely well presented, tasty meals and our fine wine that dessert was not a possibility no matter how much we wanted to taste some of the fare we saw other diners savour.

                      Channings advise that it uses only high quality, local and organic produce when arranging the menu for all meals. We had the dinner and next morning a great, wholesome breakfast. You are invited to partake of several cereals, at least eight fresh fruits, dairy products and fresh juices before you can choose from cooked meals. I believe they also offer lunches. You get a peek out to the garden from the breakfast restaurant, we were not there long enough to have a sit out there but guests are apparently welcome to do so.

                      By the way: in case you wonder how the dinner priced out - we both had two courses and a fine wine and we paid around 60 GBP. A very good investment in a romantic, comfortable dining experience.

                      Our suite was one of 41 individually decorated, elegant rooms. It was really delightful. The single beds were huge, groaning with stylish pillows. There was a plasma television, arm chairs beside a little occasional table and I spied an iron and ironing board - I can assure you that I had no intention of using such mundane household pieces in my luxurious surroundings. There was tea and coffee making facilities and a pack of Scottish shortbread - we did use these while we waited for our dinner date.

                      Now the white, huge bathroom was out of this world. A bath and shower with the most inviting lotions and soaps to lure you into a relaxing soak which I definitely did. I luxuriated in a deep, warm bubbly bath for a good half hour before dressing for our ever so romantic dinner.

                      After all, a girl has to unwind when she’s spent the afternoon yelling, cheering madly and being an enthusiastic member of the massive Mexican wave at an international rugby match - along with over 54,000 other rugby fans. I bet many of them would have liked to spend their after-match evening at Channings Hotel in Edinburgh.

                      If you go to Channings Hotel, you can sit a while and muse about a former owner of the house: history records that Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton once owned the home from 1904 until 1910. There certainly is plenty of historic pieces placed about. I spied a library there and a room set up for meeting so guess these are on offer to you whether you visit as an individual or for conference, seminar or the like.

                      It’s a wee way out of town but we walked in and out, following the map the receptionist gave us and so willingly advised the route to take. Before we took off for the rugby we asked her to book us a taxi but one of the young male staff said could he make a suggestion. ‘’If I was you, I would walk down to Murrayfield. You will experience all the atmosphere as you get there, a taxi won’t get you close to the stadium.’‘ Good enough for us - we took his advice and were both delighted we did so - what a walk, there and back, what a huge rugby day.

                      Most certainly for me, returning to four-star Channings Hotel for a night of opulence, fine wining and dining and of course the good old soak in the bath will be a memory to remain with me for ever.

                      (Don’t know about bus routes out to Channings, we took a taxi from the Railway Station and it cost around 6 GBP). Perhaps if you go on to its site you may learn about buses: www.channings.co.uk

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                        31.03.2007 17:23
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                        I love my Canon PowerShot S2Is

                        This is my first camera review and to be honest I haven't a clue where it is going to take me.... or you!

                        My son's wedding day was not the best time to be handed a brand new digital camera to record such an important day's events. I bawked a little at the challenge, asked a few questions and off I went.

                        Well, half an hour later I handed it over to my techno nephew and he took on the role of unofficial photographer of our family event and I am so pleased he did.

                        Then, upon arriving home I got out the Canon PowerShot S2 IS and had a play .... what fantastic results but when it came to downloading the wedding pics I just about went mad. Time to read the manual. Well they do recommend to read the instructions before setting out on a new appliance, apparatus and of course the same goes for cameras.

                        Actually I found reading the manual a bit difficult in this book but as I got used to the camera the instructions came clearer.


                        QUALITY PHOTOGRAPHS
                        I am absolutely gobsmacked at the quality of photos this camera takes and how easy, quick and efficient it is to take a pic, click a button around, and see to them instantly in front of me. If I don't like it I delete it and start again.

                        Now, on the subject of deleting I must tell you the most frustrating thing about this camera. I stand corrected but it seems you can delete a picture without it giving you a second chance to change your mind. Now I know this because of a sad and sorry tale I will now share with you.

                        My companion, who actually owns the camera, and I went out to visit friends for a summer New Zealand barbecue. I took about 40 frames, over half an hour, of the most spectacular sunset: one frame was so unbelievable that I showed it to all at the party and he decided to take it inside and put it on the television so the aged 93 year old nanna could see it properly. Fate determined it to be a bit of a challenge for him in his state of inebriation. I begged him not to play around with it and not to destroy my ''award winning'' sunset picture.

                        Allas, he listened not, and without trying he deleted the ''double sun'' photo which I was already seeing as an award winner or the very least, pride of place as a feature in the lounge room for years to come. (In actual fact he deleted 60 photos which I had taken that day and had not had time to download into the computer.)

                        It was a quiet trip home. He headed for the manual and tried to retrieve the ''treasured shots'' but to no avail. I went to the camera shop and the man tried to technically get it back but we had used the camera again and that made it a futile exercise.

                        But, it has made me read the manual fully, I am now more conversant with the style of the book and can relate better to the instructions.

                        IT PAYS TO READ THE MANUAL
                        The book clearly sets out how to prepare the camera, the basics of shooting a picture, playback, erasing (we are professionals at that!), useful shooting functions, shooting advanced functions, playback advanced functions, camera setting, additonal features and an appendix where you learn about troubleshooting, care and maintenance and tips and information, to name a few.

                        It has three pages on precautions and warnings so one could take from this it is a piece of dangerous apparatus but to date it has not done anything hazardous to my health. (It was nearly hazardous to my companion's health but I restrained from removing him from the human race!).



                        FITS MY LIFESTYLE ... but does it fit his?
                        Now that I have settled in with the camera I can say it is easy to use, it is so convenient to tote around, it is just magnificent in the quality of photos and options it gives you as an amateur photographer. It is all I will ever need and more so.

                        I've used it at two family weddings, camping with grandkids, site seeing some great New Zealand landscapes, beautiful garden shots and of course the barbecue with the amazing sunset. It's fair to say I've hit the zoom button a thousand times, it really does bring the shot into perspective, concise and better viewed when you finally print it out.

                        It takes the stills to perfection and we have also made three movies: short but sweet. That is another story, believe it or not my companion has thrice taken a movie and wiped around 30 still pics in the process. I demanded he come with me to the shop he bought it at and learn what he was doing wrong. The owner of the store took time to read the manual and show us what should be done and he says there is no way the camera would have done that: it must have been operator error.

                        Now in defence of my dear companion, the camera actually has a lot of buttons on the back bit (the side that faces you when you take the pictures) and it is easy to put your thumb or fingers on a button erroneously. Now I've got used to it I don't accidentally touch a wrong button but for a while it was a problem.



                        PRETTY IMPRESSIVE FEATURES
                        Some features which camera buffs will appreciate include the fact that, along with your computer/laptop you have a ``Peter Jackson'' film team at your finger tips (New Zealand film producer of Lord of the Rings and King Kong). You can attach sound memos to images, do a slide show, make a movie, rotate images in the display, use continuous shooting: all this is possible if you take the time to read the manual.

                        You can view the images on a television set and we have done this, it really is neat to see them so big and due to the quality of the camera, so bright, colourful and concise.

                        The camera operates on auto which is the mode I mostly use but you can choose from the following: AUTO where the camera automatically selects settings according to the image compostiion type and IMAGE ZONE where the camera automatically selects settings according to the image composition type like portrait, landscape, night scene, my colours, stitch assist, movie and then there is CREATIVE ZONE where the user selects the exposure aperture or other settings to achieve special effects like P: programme AE, TV: shutter-speed priority AE, AV: Aperture-priority AE, M: Manual Exposure and C: Custom.

                        I've not tried all of these yet and time will see me venture forth into this creative zone. True blue photographers would settle into this quite comfortably I am sure.



                        DON'T PANIC... all will be revealed
                        I was a bit perturbed when a peculiar icon appeared on the pics when I was viewing them in the camera (one of the things which set my companion going the night he deleted my sunset pic!!). It turns out that it is the Histogram. The man in the retail outlet explained this to us. It is a graph that lets you judge the brightness of the picture you've just taken. The greater the bias to the left in the graph, the darker the image. So it figures that the greater the bias toward the right, the brighter the shot. The instruction book tells you how to adjust the exposure compensation and if you don't want to see the icon you just press the disp button and it disappears. If only my friend knew that on the erroneous ''editing'' night I would still have my award winning sunset picture. (I hope you don't think I am harping on!)


                        I AM IMPROVING
                        This camera is user friendly now I've got used to it. I must confess I freaked out when handed it on such an auspicious occasion when I recognised I had no time to learn about it before using it. If you buy it, ask plenty of questions in the shop, ask for some free lessons and be sure you can go back and ask questions after you've started using it when some little things creep up on you.

                        There will obviously be things I have still to learn about it but to date I am so pleased he bought it and the challenge of learning all it does is still ahead of me. What a journey.



                        THOSE ALL IMPORTANT SPECIFICATIONS
                        For camera buffs I guess you will want to know some specifications and as there are so many I thought I'd pick out what are important to me, a very amateur ''consumer''. (I don't confess to understanding them all!)

                        Camera Effective Pixels: approximately 5.0 million
                        Image Sensor: 1/2.5 inc CCD (Total number of pixesl: approx 5.3million)
                        Lens: 6.0(W)-72.0 (T)mm (35mm film equivalent:36-432mm) f/2.7 (W)-f/3.5(T).
                        Digital Zoom: Approximately 4.0x (Up to approximately 48x in combination with the optical zoom.)
                        Viewfinder: Colour LCD viewfinder. Picture coverage rate 100% Dioptric Adjustment -5.5 +1.5m -1 (dpt)
                        LCD Monitor: 1.8inch, low-temperature polycrystalline silicon TFT Colour LCD (115,000 pixels, picture coverage 100%)
                        Shooting distance: Normal AF: 50cm (1.6ft) - infinity, (w)/90 cm (3.0ft) - infinity (T). Macro: 10-50 cm (3.9 in - 1.6ft (W), Super Macro: 0-10 cm (0-3.9 in) (W)
                        ISO SPEED:AUTO, iso 50/100/200/400 Equivalent.
                        Built IN Flash: Auto, on, off.
                        Self timer: Activates shutter after approximately 1-sec/approx 2-sec delay. Custom timer.
                        Recording media: SD Memory Card.
                        Data Type: Still imaages: Exif 2.2 (JPEG), Movie: AVI (Image data: motion, PJEG, Audio-data, WAVE (Stereo).
                        Surely that's enough!

                        HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
                        When we went back to the shop to have some urgently required lessons, the camera had dropped to NZ$699 (GBP 263) approximately.



                        AND IN CONCLUSION
                        I've taken hundreds and hundreds of photos since I first clutched it so nervously in my hand. I am now confident in my use of it, I love it and wonder why I put off using digital for so long. Our grandchlidren have never looked so good on still and movie shots!!!!! We have so many memories stored in the computer and on CD - what a summer it has been with our new camera ''marvel''.

                        I'm almost a Power Shot with this Canon PowerShot S2IS and after spending some more time reading the manual I'm sure we will be even more pleased than we are now.


                        DO I RECOMMEND IT ......sure do!
                        Yes, it is an attractive camera with a really suitable 'viewing' window for those who want to step up a cog or two with their photography hobby - who knows you may yet be walking the red carpet at the Oscars with your home movie on your PowerShot. It wil be a short movie but I'm sure a good one!!!

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                          30.03.2007 14:37
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                          Salzburg, city of music, history and great scenery

                          Visit Salzburg today and enjoy the best of musical history over hundreds of years and that of a popular musical just over 40 years old.

                          Tourism based on ancient and modern - Mozart’s music genius in the 1700s, and the modern tunes of The Sound of Music, famous now for just over 40 years.

                          Salzburg has it all, the music story, wonderful, old, historic buildings and the majestic mountains bordering a lovely, open rural plain. ‘The Festival City and its beautiful surrounding countryside’ - that’s what my glossy tourism book says and I agree through and through.

                          My winter visit was magic. Snow was not as predominant as it usually is in February but enough on the stunning mountains to add the feeling of winter turning to spring. This proved to be just the right time of year for us to explore an old, architectural beauty.

                          Mozart was born here - to be precise he entered the Salzburg scene at 8 o’clock in the evening on the 27th day of January in 1756 at number 9 Getreidegasse and one day later he started the tourism trend by going to the Cathedral and gaining the honourable name of Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart at his christening.

                          With such a musical name it was always on the cards that he would take the world by storm and create 600 musical pieces from little arias to historic operas. One thing for sure, in his short life he must have been a very busy musician and ‘’chocolatier’‘! Well, in today’s Salzburg you see many red and gold chocolate creations - Mozart Balls abound -- whole shops of just Mozart-related chocolates, you have to ask the question ‘’Did he love chocolate or did he not?’‘ Perhaps that is what brought him to an early grave as he died just 35 years old but he had packed a lot into his time: performed for royal families in Vienna, Paris and London, awarded “Knight of the Golden Spur’‘ by a Pope, court concert director and organist and all the while writing such works as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute.

                          In today’s Salzburg you can share in his history by visiting both the house he was born in which is now a museum to him, a yellow building prominent on the tourism street of Getreidegasse and the home where he moved with his famly The Dance Master’s House on Market Square.

                          No visit to Salzburg would be complete without paying homage to Mozart in some way: visit these buildings or take in a concert of his everlasting music. We went to the birthplace and enjoyed the many levels giving a glimpse into the way life was in Salzburg in the 1700s. Well worth a visit, stay for lunch in the café - recommended.

                          Now to the modern day music influence in Salzburg. This is where the Sound of Music is set and a good lot of the movie was filmed in and around the city. Actually, it is a good way to see Salzburg and the mountain areas around it. We took the Original Sound of Music Tour in a bus suitably decorated with the von Trapp family from the movie.

                          Now, just a little word of disappointment here. On the tour you get a full and comprehensive commentary about how the film was made, how the original family lived and sadly for me the two don’t parallel each other too well. In fact, the movie is mostly made up - our efficient tour guide shared a deep insight into the real history and I confess I had no idea that it wasn’t as it was portrayed in the movie. There is enough to hang the movie on the original von Trapps but only just in my opinion.

                          But, it did not mar the enjoyment and wonder of the tour, the movie sites and the places you drive to. There is plenty of time for getting out of the bus, taking photos and asking questions. The tour is really well worth going on - just be aware that the movie is not much like the real life story of the Von Trapp family.

                          When I returned home I put on the 40th Anniversary of the Sound of Music DVD and what a joy it was to see all the places we visited on the tour. I look at the movie differently now, more as a tourist than one wanting to be entertained. One little disappointment is the fact that the big family house you see in the movie (where the children fall into the lake in front of the house) is actually two houses. The front is one house, the back another - miles apart. And, the real von Trapps never snuck off out of the town via the cemetery, pursued by Germans and trekking over the Untersberg mountain - they actually packed a backpack each, went down to the railway station and took a train out of Salzburg to somewhere else in Europe before going to America.


                          On the tour we were taken to Mirabell Gardens where Maria and the children danced around the Statue of Pegasus fountain, through the tree-lined arches and up the steps. We went to Leopoldskron Castle and lake, Hellbrunn Castle grounds to see the glass pavillion where ‘’I am 16, going on 17'’ was sung so beautifully, Nonnberg Abbey which is the oldest convent in the German-speaking part of Europe. The real Baron and Maria were married here in 1927 and it is where Maria returned to late, while the nuns were going to mass at the beginning of the movie. We moved out of the city to visit St Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang which is the scenery shown at the beginning of the movie. Finally, we went to Mondsee Cathedral where the movie wedding was filmed - stunning building.


                          Now I will mention some of the attractions we visited and share a little about each one.
                          Salzburg has so much to offer the tourist, you can walk to most things. There is the old town nestled under the steep, rocky hillside with the river Salzach forming a border for the new town. The bus service is so efficient and takes you efficiently through the town and out into urban areas around about.

                          We walked and walked and walked - every day something different to see. On our first full day we came upon a permanent market and around the corner, spread around a church by the Mirabell Gardens was a fantastic Thursday market - what a cacophony to excite the senses. Memorable for sure.

                          HOHENSALZBURG FORTRESS is dominant atop the hill and able to be seen for miles around. It’s been up there since 1077 when Archbishop Gebhardt von Helffenstein began construction. The most important builder was Leonhard von Keutschach (1495-1519). From here you get magnificent views of the city below and miles out to the mountains and all in between.

                          We saw huge majolica urns here, so stunningly endowed with figures, absolutely fantastic. There is a strong showing of battle implements and other war influences so men would particularly like this attraction. We visited the Marionette Theatre-Museum in the fortress.

                          To get to the fortress you can use the 1892 funicular in front of it, go along the road a little and go up a lift or walk up the steep hillside walk-way. We went in the cable car - to save time and be able to see more of the fortress.

                          MIRABELL GARDENS
                          We could not visit the house in the winter but the gardens really are lovely, even in pre-springtime as the statues are most impressive and the little box-bordered gardens were offering some hints of colour.

                          NONNBERG ABBEY
                          Drawn there by the Maria von Trapp history we took the long, steep climb up to the abbey and were surprised to see we could go through the wrought iron gate and even inside the church. It was extremely dark, grey and quite austere but well worth going to visit. Outside and in the lovely courtyard are tidy, well-cared for graves which are obviously the resting place of nuns who served there. We went back inside the abbey to sit and listen to taped music of the real nuns singing, it was so lovely to be there experiencing the beauty of the sound.

                          ST PETERS ABBEY
                          What a treasure. The grandest cathedral I have ever been in. A massive, creative, golden high altar dominates from the minute you step in the front door. The ceiling is grand, it so beautifully depicts the life of St Peter by Franz X Konig. The abbey is dedicated to patron saints St Peter and St Paul. It presents as medieval world of the Romanesque architecture. Have to mention the organ - 1620/1763 it includes statues of St Peter and St Vitus - it is so so grand. Gold, ancient paintings and an environment drenched in history - you really must see St Peter’s Abbey when in Salzburg.

                          SALZBURG CATHEDRAL
                          In the centre of the old town stands the earliest Italian-type church built north of the Alps. It’s stood there since the early days of Salzburg and it is quite different. Bright orange tones and the most fantastic old paintings on the sides and up on the ceiling. It was bombed in World War II but is now restored to the original state. Many parishioners and visitors have walked down the aisles of the Dom zu Salzburg since it was consecrated in 774 by the Abbot and Bishop Virgil ....dedicated to St Rupert and St Virgil... it is a treasure among the sacred buildings that make up Salzburg - 42 in all.

                          PRINCE ARCHBISHOPS’ RESIDENCE
                          Set in the Residence Square, this is the place where all the Archbishops of Salzburg have resided and the audio-tour is well worth taking. Each room is beautiful, white, red and gold tones throughout and as you would expect chandeliers and masterpieces abound. The stately Conference Hall is so ornate and when you are in the first guest room the staircase has the most wonderful ‘’organ’‘ balustrades so as you pass you can play a tune or two. Wonderful. It is set in Presidenz Square where I heard the lovely glockenspeil bells which peal Mozart tunes three times a day.

                          MIRACLES WAX MUSEUM
                          This is a look at Salzburg in the year 1791. A manservant Franz Josef takes you through the life of those in fashion and high society including a Mozart party as well as a look at beggars and other historic depictions.
                          It ends with a scene from the Sound of Music which is beautifully framed in a rose bed - a really good way to learn about the history of Salzburg and see how people lived at the time in the 2400 m2 of historic streets, animations and moving/speaking figures which total 77 life-size wax people.

                          We took a day trip out to a 450 year old salt mine which was actually in Germany, in the Bavarian Alps. Near Berchtesgaden, it was an attraction with a difference - you had to get into miners clothes and take a little train deep into the mountain. The tour guide only spoke German but there was an English commentary from a box at each site. This was okay but we did lose a bit in the fact we couldn’t ask questions. However, we did take a scary ride down a miners wooden slide (rail thing) and it was extremely ‘screamy’. Inside we went on a special boat across a salty- water grotto which was dark and eerie.
                          On this trip we visited Obersalzberg where once the leaders of the Third Reich had residences and from here we looked up to Eagle’s Nest which was Hitler’s former conference centre.

                          UNTERSBERG MOUNTAIN.
                          We ascended the 1853m mountain in a big cable car and the views from here are just magic. What a vista: snow-capped mountains, huge rural plains and of course the city of Salzburg below where the Hohensalzburg Fortress dominates the view.

                          There is so much more for you to experience in Salzburg: the bridges, especially the Mozart walking bridge, the Marionette Theatre Museum, many restaurants, Steigl’s Brauwelt which is claimed to be Europe’s largest beer exhibition, hosts of museums, Pferdeschwemmen Horse Wells, the Zoo at Hellbrunn, many churches and absolutely wonderful shop windows in both the old and new areas.

                          Salzburg is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque .... it is a beautiful city and one you can explore at your leisure for either a short break or for longer if you want to ski, shop, dine and take in some rather stunning scenery.

                          If you are going to be there a few days, ask about the Salzburg Card: once bought it offers free admission to lots of attractions, free public transport as well as discounts for cultural events and various tours and visits.

                          Lasting impression: At night, standing on one of the bridges looking back at the old town with lights beaming onto church spires, castle towers and high above it all Hohensalzburg Fortress - superb.

                          Getting there: fly, train, bus or private car. The airport is only about a 20 minute drive into the main part of the city where you will find lots of varying types of accommodation for all budgets.
                          Salzburg is old, it is truly a memorable place to visit - I will need to win a big lottery to buy the most beautiful piece of material I have ever seen in my life - 139.50Euro per metre!!! I cannot even start to describe it here - there are no adjectives to describe this ‘’wonder of the world’‘ in material terms!

                          I intend to write more fully on some of the attractions I visited in reviews of their own when time allows. Hope you enjoyed this one and you feel inspired to make a booking and get to Salzburg on your next holiday. You will be doing yourself a BIG favour - I will return in the summer to take in some things which were closed.

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                          • Valencia Circuit / Discussion / 65 Readings / 61 Ratings
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                            10.12.2006 20:27
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                            Valencia is a great short break destination

                            I chose Valencia on the spurr of the moment when I found out Ryannair were offering free flights, just pay taxes and charges.

                            I left on a cold, wet dark London day and must admit not awfully excited to be journeying away on my own but I was in for a pleasant surprise.


                            First view was onto the azure blue Mediterranean sea, with 8 cargo and container ships dotted near the shore... we made the turn for a straight path into the airport. Over a massive port we flew, where tiny little containers looked like dolly lollies, tidily stacked ready for export; a very large ship was berthed at the portside with four gigantic cranes busy loading; now a school came into view, set amid a neighbourhood of orange/earthy coloured homes, a huge graveyard and thousands and thousands of industrial buildings followed ....with what looked like market gardens and orange groves spattered all around.

                            It’s a tidy and interesting approach to Valencia Airport and the start of a short break to Spain’s third largest city, one steeped in history and nowadays mainly a commerce centre for a vast range of commercial and industrial enterprises as well as those working the La Huerta ( the green belt of most fertile land which sees up to four harvest in a year of a huge range of vegetables, fruit and of course oranges).

                            After such a pictorial airways entrance to Valencia the airport is a bit of a disappointment: it is messy all around the runway and the terminal a bit tired but it was a quick pass through the immigration and a long wait for luggage but then it was time to get into Valencia and explore its many historic and modern attractions.

                            The flight took around an hour and a half and then I took a taxi into the city but it is easy to take a train or bus and at a reasonable cost too. This was a budget holiday so I stayed in a hostel on the perimeter of the Old Centre and I am really pleased I did.

                            The brochures say you don’t need to use the public transport as it’s easy to walk around the old city but if you want to there is a metro and buses. I actually walked, and walked and walked until I just about dropped. This is easy to do as you can get your bearings using adequate maps (mostly in Spanish though but decipherable to get to the main attractions.)

                            I went in late November and the weather was just right: not too hot, not too cold and most pleasant strolling along and finding skinny streets, little shopping blocks hidden away until I got to the main streets. What a joy the exploring was, even though I was on my own.

                            Valencia’s old centre is quite compact so you can walk easily, best to concentrate on the three main squares: Plaza de la Reina, Plaza del Ayuntamiento and Plaza de la Virgen (my favourite!). The area is roughly determined by the rails of the tramway - and inside here you will find historic monuments dating from the time of the reconquest of Valencia from the Moors when in 1238 Jaime 1 started what has been determined as the city’s ‘’most blooming epoch’‘.

                            Some highlights visited and photographed include:

                            The Cathedral: mainly early gothic with some parts added in later times. The octaganol bell tower is quite unusual: no great paintings here, just a really attractive cream finish with carvings to suit the simplicity. Really quite stunning actually.

                            On my first day I looked in the door and thought it rather plain so decided not to visit. BUT, the hostel receptionist told me I really must go in, pay the three euros, (which includes the head-set to listen to the exceptionally fine information it affords) and be prepared to be impressed. Well, she was right, I moved along the route advised in the little map, and learned so much. It was extremely beautiful in the side altars, interesting to see what is purported to be The Holy Grail (the cup Jesus took his last communion in at The Last Supper), as well as a huge, gold monstrance in the museum. (I will write a separate review about the Cathedral at a later date because space will not allow me to do it the ‘’word’‘ justice it deserves.) Well worthy of mention as an attraction when in Valencia.

                            The Basilica: Basilica de la Virgen do los Desamparados:
                            Now this is a MUST see when in Valencia. I venture to say it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my travels. This is a free attraction and the hostel receptionist said if I saw nothing else I should go here.

                            There are two doors to choose from: luckily for me I chose the left one and had a stroll around the back of the basilica, past a priest hearing confession: both he and his parishioner were talking Spanish so I can not share any ‘’sins’‘ with you!

                            Then I walked into the ‘’church’‘ part of the Basilica - and was gobsmacked. It takes your breath away - the altar is a most beautiful presentation of Mary and Jesus as a babe. They share a halo of gold and precious gems. Above them is a larger halo, the rays of which are just so beautiful. From the floor up are white flowers amid two massive, hanging gold lamps and two striking chandeliers......In words I cannot achieve the beauty of this memorable altar..... I tried taking a photo to share with you but there were so many lights, candles and other shining aspects that it would not photograph clearly for me. I had to settle for a postcard but like my words here, it does not do it justice.

                            There are two beautiful pieces of art on the side walls, depicting Jesus, in this small but truly impressive holy place.... do go if in Valencia. Go to the Plaza de la Virgen (behind the Cathedral) to see the Basilica which is stunning whether you see the outside in daylight or dark. I liked this plaza the best - it has a lovely statue-water-flowing feature set to one side and cafes all around.

                            Mercado Central:
                            This old market has been serving Valencia since 1928. It’s worth a visit if you like to see a wide variety of what is grown locally - some fruit and veges I had never seen before. A colourful place to visit if you don’t mind the smell of fish - be hussled amid stalls of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables as well as a couple of things you’d not expect to see in such a market: a key stall and household cleaners!

                            Church: Iglesia de los Santos Juanes:
                            I popped in here one lunch time - it looks so plain and old from the outside but inside it is a gem... a holy place with the most amazing wooden, carved altar at the front and several side altars of gold, gems, statues as well as important wall paintings of Palamino, all quite mind-blowing. While there the bells tolled and a priest came out so I quite quickly got the message that a mass was about to be said at midday - I quietly left but was so pleased I had been able to experience this church, one of 14 parishes in the old sector where you will also find 45 convents is you have a stroll around.

                            When in Spain do as the Spanish do - eat paella. I liked it enough to eat it but won’t be rushing to dine on paella again. Paella Valenciana is the favourite. Named so because Valencia is the home of paella. The one Valencians like most is the Marinera: rice with saffron, seafood and vegetables. Sometimes chicken is added and that’s called Paella Mixta. (This is the one I had, okay, but not fantastic!)

                            Paella is placed in a Paellera (a flat pan) and cooked over a charcoal fire - so it figures you can buy variations of the pans as souvenirs, all over Valencia.

                            After eating it’s time for a walk - a very long walk if you do the many kilometres of the Turia Park. It used to be a river but after a major inundation catastrophe, in 1957, city fathers turned it into a park. It’s about as wide as a soccer (football!!) field and is an open air place used by thousands of visitors and locals for recreation, leisure and sport. As you walk down you go under some rather impressive bridges: I particularly remember the Puente de Serranos with its 15th century towers which were part of the old town-walls, it now stands proud amid more modern buildings around.

                            There are playing fields, children’s play areas, cafes, fountains, lakes and other interesting attractions as you stroll along. If you start at the city end you walk out towards the sea and it is here you get quite a surprise. It’s the La Ciudad de las Arts y de las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences)... what an amazing site. The most modernistic buildings - to me the first one looked like a gigantic fish, others make up a water-bound futuristic city.

                            Here you will find four main buildings: L”Hemisferic - a planetarium and huge IMAX theatre; Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe has exhibitions of the latest in high tech; L”Oceanografic is the underwater world where you can walk through tunnels where sharks and other sea life look out at you and Palacio de las Artes with auditoriums for plays and opera. Four million people visit this area each year.

                            There are other gardens which I did not visit but look out for information on them if you do visit Valencia: Jardines de la Alameda as well as another 18th century park, Jardines de Monforte. The Zoological Gardens are in the ‘’Real Gardens’‘ and inside here you will find the ruins of an old king’s palace.

                            There are many other places to go to, which I did not have time to do but I’ll mention them from the map just so you learn a little more if planning to visit Valencia yourself. In Plaza Zaragoza you will find an unfinished 47m Gothic tower, dating back to the 14th century the Miguelete was recommended to me as a place to view the city. I saw the tower but did not go into it.

                            The Instituto Valencia de Arte Moderno has an impressive collection of Spanish modern art and the former Silk Exchange (La Lonja de Seda) was built in 1498 and is today a Unesco World Heritage Site. I did actually have a quick look in here but there was no silk selling that day.

                            Other historic buildings abound but I cannot tell you much about them as the map was in Spanish so my four days were spent asking for help with my lack of Spanish. That is a point I would like to make: when in other Spanish towns my lack of local language has never been a problem. People have happily helped me but I found in Valencia there was not the same attitude to tourists. I actually feel that it is a city which aims to serve its locals, industrial and commercial interests but has not yet dawned on the value of tourism and the money it brings in. I hope I am not being too negative here but let me explain just one example of this.....

                            I managed to tell the train ticket man that I wanted to go to Sagunta and return. He sold me the ticket and then I had to find out which train to get on. I asked three uniformed people who looked like they worked for the train station but all said ‘’no speak English’‘ so I went to the information office lady. She said something like ‘’Get on Casquoo’‘. I said it back to her and happily set off thinking I would read this on the board....... there was nothing which looked like that so I went and asked a cleaning lady if she spoke English. She spoke a little so I told her I needed to know which train to get on. Thankfully she understood me and pointed me in the right direction. Once on the train I could see what the lady in the ticket office was trying to say .... Castello. Now I look at it and wonder why I did not guess Casquoo was Castello but when traveling on your own you sometimes lack a little confidence.


                            While mentioning the train I must relate the theme of the train station - it is very old and has thousands and thousands of oranges painted into the beautiful walls as well as striking mosaic work. A lovely old building.

                            Night life is fantastic. In fact, I could not believe the little side streets, as well as the more busier thoroughfares were the same place I’d seen in the day. In true Spanish style the night living starts late and goes on late. What a picture the little cafes, pubs, restaurants and the lit up statuary were..... superb, especially in the Barrio del Carmen district.

                            You can travel to Valencia by plane, train, bus or private vehicle and when you’re there expect to be warm most of the year. January temperatures are around 10C with highs of 25C in July and August. Spring and autumn are the best times to go as it is not too hot. The sun shines around 300 days a year so it is really a great Mediterranean place to visit.

                            If driving, use the AP-7 motorway running down the east coast of Spain which connects Valencia to main European motorways and you can use the A-23 Sagunto-Somport or the A-3 Madrid-Valencia highway.

                            The train arrives at Valencia North Station, near the city centre, from national and international places as well as local provincial towns.

                            Planes fly in from many major European airports and there is a ferry from Port Valencia which takes visitors daily to places like Ibiza on a 3 hour crossing. There’s one crossing a week to Mahon which takes 13 hours. Going to Palma you will be able to take one of the 3 daily crossings which takes four hours.

                            Currency is the Euro of course and there are plenty of shops to spend them in. Ancient or modern areas, the shopping is diverse and as mentioned there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy and entertained.

                            On the Costa Brava, Valencia has plenty of beach life, it’s only a short bus ride out to the sea and all the recreation that offers.

                            This ancient city was first called Valentia and since then it has evolved as a busy, religious, commercial and industrial centre where festivals and culture abound and trade fairs offer Valencia an important place as a dynamic Spanish city. A place where you can easily spend three or four days exploring, shopping, wining and dining and meeting new friends. If you are there next year you can go and see the America’s Cup - during May and June, I think.

                            There is an America’s Cup village evolving - I ran out of time to visit but a man in the queue at the airport went and he said it was a great place to view dozens of cranes.... he doubted it would be ready but most big event sites have these wobbles and on opening day they stand tall and proud and the sport goes on as planned.

                            Valencia is a good place to use as a base to visit outlying areas. I went to Sagunta for the day and enjoyed its ancient castle and the new-old roman theatre which uses the ruins as a base and is re-built as it would have been all those year’s ago. Other places recommended in the tourism pamphlets are La Alburfera, a salt-water lake and Jativa which is a traditional manorial town with a fortress showing the remains of almost all periods of Spanish history.


                            Many years ago, Spain’s national hero, ‘El Cid’ fought against the Moors in Valencia – nowadays it is a place which is ‘’happening’..... I believe it will further evolve to be a really interesting place for people to visit who want to experience Spain in a slightly different way to most of its other major towns. It presents as a busy city going about its business - the part tourists play is probably much more important than is currently realised but I do hope people who visit will enjoy it as much as I did.

                            Trust you enjoyed reading this review and learned some thing about Valencia .... do try the fresh orange juice ... it’s divine.... hmmm!!!

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                            • More +
                              11.11.2006 15:09
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                              Ancient religious history for modern tourists

                              Slip back in time.
                              Hear the trumpets, see the pomp and ceremony today,
                              the 25th of December, 1066. You are lucky enough to be the recipient of an invitation to William the Conqueror's coronation and here you are witnessing the first monarch to walk down the stone floor to his coronation. You are among his subjects watching in awe, with hopes and aspirations for a honest and wise reign.

                              Move forward to 2006 and now you are in the same magnificent building which has endured the test of time. You may not be able to stand in awe today, but I did recently and immediately mused about all those feet which traversed these hallowed stones before me. Just a few foot-steps into this London icon you are hushed by the history, whispering in awe of the noble ‘residents’ some resting in grand chapels, others marked with massive statues and some marked by stone memorials on the floor.

                              Not just the royal, aristocrats and the country’s best in society but poets, writers, scientists, architects, politicians, musicians, military people, explorers and even an unknown solider in pride of place near the front entrance (West door) to the abbey. In the church and cloisters there are around 3300 officially buried but records were not kept until 1607 so not all buried here are documented and the actual number is known to be higher.

                              But, don’t think this is a cemetery. It is not. The minute you walk in the public, paying entrance on the side you can not help but be impressed with the architecture, the history and the age of this religious edifice. It quite takes your breath away. Truly it does.

                              I’ve visited twice but I have to say the second time I took so much more in. I was accompanied by my son, sister and brother-in-law from New Zealand. They were most impressed with their first vision, upon viewing the stunning towers and strikingly interesting exterior. Just seeing their initial reaction to the interior, especially the ceiling, was extremely memorable. It definitely has its own WOW factor. First impressions do count - they become really special when you think about all those who have gone before. Those as visitors and those who are buried there for eternity.

                              This mention of burials I’m sure will interest you as much as it did us.

                              Thomas Parr lived for 152 years and nine months so he’d seen out 10 monarchs but when he took his demise King Charles, impressed with his longevity, ordered that Parr be buried in Westminster Abbey.
                              He takes his place in history under a small, white marble gravestone in the centre of the South Transept: it reads ‘’THO; PARR OF YE COUNTY OF SALLOP. Borne in AD: 1483. He lived in ye reignes of ten princes VIZ; K.EDW.4, K.ED.5. K.RICH3. K.HEN.7, K.HEN.8, K.EDW.6. Q.MA. Q.ELIZ. K.JA & K.CHARLES, AGED 152 YEARES. 7 WAS BURYED HERE NOVEMB. 15.1635.


                              LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
                              Taking centuries to construct, Westminster Abbey is an architectural gem and it’s easy to see why it has been described as ‘’unique pageant of British history’‘ where you will see tombs of kings and queens, the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, set in quiet grandeur. It is still a fully operative church, regular worship as well as grand national occasions take place here, including every coronation since 1066, royal weddings and funerals. (Apparently when stating the claim that every monarch has been crowned at Westminster Abbey there needs to be a clarification: there were two exceptions: Edward V and Edward VIII were never crowned - so that clears that up for history boffins reading this.)

                              Apparently it is neither a cathedral or a parish church but a ‘’Royal Peculiar’‘ with jurisdiction by a Dean and Chapters, answerable to the Sovereign. Since my visit there I’ve read that Prince Charles may break from tradition and have his coronation elsewhere: what a dreadful shame to sever such long, strong, historic bonds with previous monarchs. The only connection in my opinion will be that his decision to go elsewhere will be a ‘’Royal Peculiar’‘ decision!

                              We walked in the main public entrance and like most others moved to the left, in behind the high altar to see the massive tombs of the great, wealthy and memorable. I particularly was interested in the Coronation Chair, not for its beauty but because I’d seen the Stone which sits under it for coronations, in Stirling Castle (I think), where I learned that it had been kept in Westminster Abbey against the wishes of the Scottish people for many decades. Our current Queen Elizabeth returned the stone to Scotland and it will come back down when needed for further coronations. (That’s if they are held in the Abbey!)

                              Grand edifices, beautiful wooden carvings, stunning stained glass windows, the dark and fantastically carved choir chairs, gold and grandeur all come readily to mind as I reminisce on our visits. Each time we have been there we have been reminded that Westminster Abbey is a place of worship, foremost, a place of God. A duty minister has invited us to stop and take time to pray, as thoughts of the day are shared with those present. Quiet reflection comes easy here.


                              I haven’t ‘’walked’‘ you through every inch of this magnificent abbey, there’s too much to tell but you should join the many thousands of visitors from all over the world who go to explore and appreciate this wonderful place, next door to the Palace of Westminster, the seat of parliament. However, I would like to share with you the Chapter House because it is one of the biggest in England.

                              CHAPTER HOUSE
                              This octagonal Chapter House has beautiful Victorian stained glass windows, is adorned with sculpture and wall paintings of the Apocalypse - here you will find the Last Judgement painted on the east wall. Our guide was justifiably proud of the role the Chapter House has played in the life of Westminster Abbey and overall he had every reason to be. From 1250s the monks met in here for prayers and to read chapters from the rule of St Benedict and to talk about their daily tasks. There are no monks there in today’s evangelical life.

                              This important Chapter House was in fact, the first place that the King’s Great Council met in 1257 which historically is the start of the English Parliament, it later moved over the road to the Palace of Westminster.... which is still the House of Parliament today.

                              Do visit the Museum, just off the Cloisters: it has a huge range of apparel, papers, manuscripts, crowns and other aspects of monastery and church life from the very beginning of Westminster Abbey.


                              GENERAL FACTS AND FIGURES YOU MAY LIKE TO KNOW
                              Now for some general facts about The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster: the official title of Westminister Abbey. Mainly limestone from Caen in France and sandstone from Reigate in Surrey make up the construction, along with Purbeck marble from Jurassic Dorset are included in the 2972 square metres (32,000 square feet): 161.5 metre (530 feet) length of the exterior.
                              For the 1953 coronation there were around 8200 people present, no doubt taking in the grandeur of the event but also the striking 68 metres (225 ft 4 inches) of the West Towers, the interior length being 156 metres (511 feet).
                              Every day worshippers can total 2000 and they too will be impressed with the holiness of the place but also the 50 metre (166 feet) and the height of the Henry VII Chapel - 18.5metres (60ft 7 inches); or the width across of the entire chapel, 21 metres (70 ft 1 inch).
                              I loved the Waterford Crystal chandeliers which the Guiness family gave to celebrate the 900th anniversary in 1965.


                              ABBEY MISSION STATMENT
                              Westminster Abbey’s ministry is to SERVE ALMIGHTY GOD AS A SCHOOL OF THE LORD’S SERVICE BY OFFERING DIVINE WORSHIP DAILY AND PUBLICLY...... TO SERVE THE SOVEREIGN BY DAILY PRAYER AND BY A READY RESPONSE TO REQUESTS MADE BY HER OR ON HER BEHALF..... TO SERVE THE NATION BY FOSTERING THE PLACE OF TRUE RELIGION WITHIN NATIONAL LIFE, MAINTAINING A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AND THE HOUSE OF LORDS AND WITH OTHERS IN REPRESENTATIVE POSITIONS...... TO SERVE PILGRIMS AND ALL OTHER VISITORS AND TO MAINTAIN A TRADITION OF HOSPITALITY TOWARDS ALL OUR VISITORS AND GUESTS.’‘ For me, those involved in its stewardship are certainly achieving these ideals.

                              Westminster Abbey has an Anglican heritage and responsibilities within the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has special rights to preside over ceremonies there. More recent history, seen on television screens, has brought grand Westminster Abbey occasions into homes all over the world but there’s nothing like actually being there. Anyone reading this will have memories of some events at Westminster Abbey and I am sure, like myself, a visit there will prove it to be so much bigger and grander than it looks on tv. I remembered the high altar but had no idea of the magnificence behind it - history abounds at every step.

                              Today’s tourists can appreciate this truly fine, religious house which is funded mostly by admission fees as it receives no government or church funding. In my opinion the charge is most reasonable for what you see and learn and to help restore it for generations to come.

                              TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR
                              Before I leave this review I’d like to share some information about the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior as it was one aspect of the abbey I’ve been interested in since I was a little girl. An unknown soldier’s body was brought over from France and buried in the abbey on November 11, 1920. Along with him, in the grave, is some French soil, covered with black Belgian marble from Namur. A thick ‘hedge’ of red poppies are placed around the tomb.
                              The outer inscription says .... THE LORD KNOWETH THEM THAT ARE HIS.... GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS....UNKNOWN AND YET WELL KNOWN, DYING AND BEHOLD WE LIVE, and IN CHRIST SHALL ALL BE MADE ALIVE.
                              The actual identity of the soldier is of course not known but he may be from any of the three services: army, airforce or navy and from any part of the British Isles or Commonwealth countries: most importantly, and poignantly it represents all those who do not have another memorial place.
                              I cannot think of any negative things about how Westminster Abbey presents itself for tourism or worship but I guess one thing I found could be improved and that is there is no public conveniences ... the ticket seller gave me instructions to a nearby toilet, it was across an extremely busy road. Perhaps with the huge amount of people visiting here this could be addressed at some time.


                              When William the Conqueror walked down the main aisle of Westminster Abbey to his coronation he could never have known that a small tour party of Kiwi’s from far away New Zealand would, centuries later, take the same walk to appreciate and enjoy the ambience of such a magnificent living monument of the best of English history.


                              HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT YOU WILL PAY
                              To get to Westminster Abbey, use the London bus service or the underground., get off at Westminster station and walk past the Palace of Westminster, from here you will see the abbey in front of you. You’ll need at least two hours to see it all and when you are ready to leave there is the convenient SHOP for you to take home a huge variety of souvenirs and mementos. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the abbey so the shop is your chance to buy some extremely interesting postcards.

                              WESTMINSTER ABBEY charges: Adults, GBP10. Concessions, (GBP6 under 16,students and 60 plus)Family*GBP22Verger guided tour: admission plus GBP4 (English only) Sound Guide: Admission plus GBP3, (several languages).

                              Opening Hours: These vary each day so phone before you visit. On Sunday’s it is worship only... no charge but no tourist visiting either.
                              Ph: 0044 (0)20 7654 4900 email: info@westminster-abbey.org


                              (This is also published on Ciao)

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                              • Singapore Airlines / Airline / 91 Readings / 86 Ratings
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                                02.04.2006 16:12
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                                Customer service paramount, attention to detail makes the difference

                                An armchair in the sky...... no longer will I arrive a tired, snoozey, travel-worn long-haul air traveller..... I've discovered Singapore Airlines.


                                I’d never flown with them before, on my long-haul flights to and from New Zealand, my home country. I should have, would have prevented some hairy tales I have of some airlines. I have used three other major airlines and they definitely do not come anywhere near the service and comfort of Singapore Airlines.

                                I flew at a busy time, two flights to Kiwi Land early December (2005) and two flights from Auckland International airport to Heathrow in UK, late February (2006). All trips were in a full plane; this I believe is a good time to judge how staff cope with people of all nations, languages and culture, cooped up in a confined space and no-where else to go!

                                The first thing I noticed on board was the room in ‘’sardines’‘ class (economy) - I am sure I had more leg room, which when you are seated for a long time is really important - it looked roomier and felt it over my 12 hour, 9 hour, 10 hour and 13 hour flights to NZ and back to Heathrow.

                                I did my booking on the internet, the price was slightly more than some others but I was looking for an airline which had an alliance with my Air New Zealand airpoint system, Singapore Airlines did. At the check-in counter I claimed the points, instantly credited to my account.

                                I had to book-in three hours before the flight at Heathrow and it was just as well I was early as the queue was very long. The only problem - I’d phoned a fortnight ealier to ask how much weight I was allowed and was told 20kg in one suitcase. To comply, I'd organised and disciplined myself with wedding and Christmas gifts to take home, only to find signs along the check-ins announcing a baggage allowance of 32kg!

                                So, cooperation with the airpoints, a few short moments to answer the usual security questions and the lady even managed to give me an aisle seat which I always ask for - due to my arthritis which forces me to move about the aircraft a fair bit - I don’t like annoying other travellers who want to sleep while I need to roam.

                                On boarding I found a dear old lady sitting in my seat. I so kindly discussed the fact that we must have been given the same seats she pulled rank and said she’d had two hip replacements a few months ago and had paid extra for her aisle seat. A helpful stewardess determined the woman should be sitting in a seat one away from the aisle. She was not happy so in good Kiwi (Libran is my star sign and we like peace and even scales!) I gave her the aisle seat - 30 minutes into the flight we were bosom pals! The cabin crew were most professional in working through this problem.

                                We were given updates of the flight often, staff were so courteous and I have to say it felt more like being in a local hotel than thousands of miles above the earth, in a confined space. In all four flights we could order, from a menu, drinks at any time, no waiting for the drinks trolley to make its way precariously down the aisle. It did do trips down but you could order drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, whenever you liked and it was delivered on a tray, individually provided for you. I must admit to ordering and enjoying a Singapore Sling or two.

                                Now, with such service and style in the economy class it leaves me to mention the news I heard just 10 days before leaving England and that was that Singapore Airlines had won, (for the second year in a row) best service in its first and business class areas on long-haul flights.

                                HISTORY
                                All this is a long way from the early days of Singapore Airlines, which now uses Changi Airport as its international base. It was involved for 20 years as a regional airline and in May 1947 Singapore Airlines was created from its early days - Malayan Airlines - which used twin-engine Airspeed Consel aircraft to fly between Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang. In 1955 it progressed to owning a fleet of Douglas DC 3's.

                                In 1972, October saw Singapore Airlines formed with a fleet of 10 airlines, roaming between 22 cities in 18 countries and employing 6000 staff. Nowadays it operates to 90 cities in 40 countries and has the world’s largest number of Boeing 777 and 747-400 aircraft as well as Airbus 310, 340, and it is introducing a huge A380 airbus some time this year - I think it will take 555 people!! (Saw a model of this at Changi Airport on one of the stopovers.)

                                I cannot tell you which type of aircraft I flew on each of my legs of the journey. The planes were huge, reasonably quiet and really comfortable.

                                ENTERTAINMENT
                                To add to the hospitality I was able to use the KrisWorld Interactive Entertainment: 60 movies, 12 music channels, games, news - in language of your choice.... I think the book said there were 500 entertainment options. What I liked was you did not click on a movie only to find it had been running for a certain time and you’d missed it: you just used the buttons to click into instant start, and you viewed it to suit yourself.

                                I have for some years wanted to see Dr Zhivago again, imagine my delight when scrolling down the 60 options to find it available for me to view. Also I kept up with the news as we flew half way around the world.

                                You have your own tv screen set into the back of the seat in front, this does cause a little bit of angst when the person in front wants to sleep and lowers the seat - you can adjust the little screen somewhat but it was not enough for my vision and it became a little hard to view the screen.

                                FOOD AND REFRESHMENT
                                The only one of the four long-haul carriers I’ve experienced which provides you with a written menu: a well printed booklet offering Western and Asian meals. Here’s just a couple of meal options:

                                Supper from Singapore to London -
                                Appetiser: salad of green bean, potato, tomato and turkey in vinagrette.
                                Main Courses: (Exclusively created by Gordon Ramsay) Pan roasted chicken with honey soused vegetables, mushrooms and roasted potatoes
                                OR Stirfried scallops and perch in Szechuan sauce with vegetables and steamed rice.
                                Cheese: Cheese and crackers.
                                Dessert: Ice Cream.(It was delicious!)
                                From the Bakery: roll and butter.
                                Hot beverages: coffee and tea.
                                Served with red or white wine.

                                Breakfast from London to Singapore -
                                Fruit appetiser.
                                Cereal light starter.
                                Wholesome beginnings: Rice vermicilli with chicken and vegetables
                                OR Plain omelette with baked beans and mushrooms, grilled chicken sausage, potatoes.
                                From the bakery: breakfast roll, butter, fruit preserve.
                                Hot beverages: tea or coffee.

                                These were served really hot, fresh and truly tasty, all very important on a long haul flight.

                                I had a nose bleed on the way out to New Zealand and it came at the busy time when staff were serving breakfast but I must say the attention to my predicament was excellent. The men stopped serving and went for a warm, wet towel and were wanting to assist me personally but as I have many years of First Aid training I told them I would be okay. Could not fault them in any aspect of attending to me or others about me, with special meals etc.

                                A worthy highlight.
                                Flying in daylight, over the Red Desert that is the Australian hinterland, was just amazing. Staff were informed about the scenery below and pleased to talk about it with us. I'v been on other carriers and seen things outside and no-one was interested in telling me about it. When we flew over Sydney the pilot pointed out features such as the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.


                                This was just one aspect of the flying I think Singapore Airlines excells in.... customer service is paramount it seems. I can honestly say, the long flights home were not near so arduous as they have been for me on the other major long-haul carriers, I will try to fly with them whenever I need to take a long flight where customer service really matters.

                                PUNCTUALITY
                                My first flight, from Heathrow to Singapore was delayed around 40 minutes but the other three were all on time, boarding times were not too long so we could get on and then not face long waiting for take off. Generally, I am really pleased I have finally found an airline I can feel confident with, one I can look forward to flying on when I take that long, long trip down under. It makes the antipodes just that much more easier to reach in the 21st century.


                                Just thought of a negative: they give you a pack which includes sox and toothpaste and brush but gone is the eye shield for sleeping - I did take my own so it didn’t matter but I guess some may have been expecting them to be provided. Small point, but had to mention it because I have been provided with them on some of the other long-haul carriers.



                                SINGAPORE AIRLINES HOME AIRPORT
                                Just a little about Singapore Airlines ‘’home’‘ airport - Changi Airport. It is relatively new, having replaced a rather dangerous, tightly situated airport in the heart of Singapore, around 5 or 6 years ago I think.

                                When you transit, as many do on these long trips ‘’down under’‘, you can walk in the open-air Cactus Gardens and Sunflower roof top or even have a swim, shop, relax in the indoor garden, use the shower, fitness and lifestyle centres, visit the Nexus lounge or rest on a snooze chair, use the free internet as I did for a set amount of time, do some duty-free shopping, eat at a choice of many restaurants and cafes, or just sit in one of the foyer areas, I found the most amazing orchid display you could ever expect to see in a foyer! Glorious.


                                Summary:
                                Finally, Singapore Airlines has built up a reputation of excellence and for those many travellers in economy there is a commitment to service unequalled by other carriers. It really does stand out as the best option on a long-haul. I thoroughly recommend it and will be a return customer in the future.

                                Footnote: On arriving at Auckland airport after many hours in the air, we taxiied in and I heard a voice come over the intercom, ‘’good evening ladies and gentlemen, Welcome to New Zealand, my name is WINSTON and I trust you have had a good flight’‘. Well, I just about flipped. It was my nephew!

                                When I got out - he was equally surprised to see his favourite aunt come off the flight...... NOW, the really interesting part. He asked when I was due to fly back to UK and when I did I found he had left my name for some preferential treatment: my luggage flew ‘’Raffles Class’‘ so was in the first 10 suitcases to come off the aircraft at Heathrow, I was given 3 seats to myself (On a near full plane) so I slept for 7 of the 9 hours to Singapore. Just about lost it though, as we taxiied up to fly away from Auckland a lady in the seats ahead of me said she was going to come to the back and sit by me after the seat belt light went out........ Well, consternation, if you get a perk you don’t want to give it up easily, also, I’d been up and busy from 6am the day before, I needed a good sleep. So, I said in my ever so pleasant travellers voice, ‘’I am going to have a sleep’‘. I could tell she was on the verge of ‘’aircraft rage’‘ But after all, I’d been so kind to the old lady on the way out to New Zealand - this was just payback time....... surely there was no nepatism here!!!

                                Singapore Airlines makes the difference - flying is a pleasure and the people who serve seem happy to do so, cheerful and bright. Great flights over long distance.

                                (I have also published this on Ciao as Writing321)
                                (A longstanding member pointed out that the original of this was too long for Dooyoo -- so I have edited it a bit... hope those who have already rated it are not unhappy with this...)

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                                • More +
                                  12.02.2006 10:38
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                                  Grand, historic and most welcoming

                                  Chatsworth House was built for Derbyshire in this beautiful part of England's Peak District. Over 400 years of history has proved it's chosen position serves its family, its environs and the 650,000 annual visitors to perfection.

                                  Dominant in its stunningly rural valley, Chatsworth House is so palacial but has all the history and ambience of a grand family home. It offers a visit to the house, parks, adventure playground, magnificent gardens, a farm shop and a really unusual water feature which cascades down the hill behind the house and much more if you have the time.


                                  This is certainly a case of first impressions count. It has the wow factor from the road and once you park up and walk anywhere on the estate you are in ``wow'' mode. Well i was and still am when I talk to people about my visit there or show them the hordes of photos.



                                  I had picked it out of a special visit offer in a Britain stately homes type book: a two for the price of one deal, so we set out from London to visit it on our way to Chester. On the map the two looked quite close but in reality you would need to visit early in the day to see a good deal of what makes Chatsworth House memorable. We arrived around 2.30pm and did the house tour and the farm shop so this review sadly will not include personal experience of the massive 35,ooo acres (14,000 hectares) over Derbyshire and Staffordshire which makes up the Chatsworth Estate: adventure playground and gardens with lovely water features we spied through the house windows, rivers, villages, farms, woodlands and other big and small businesses.


                                  Sir William Cavendish and Bess or Hardwick (1500s) would be justifiably proud of the home they built then, if they could peak in at it nowadays. They purchased the manor of Chatsworth in 1549 and oversaw building from 1552 over many years. When Sir William Cavendish married Derbyshire woman Bess of Hardwick he may well not have known how persuavive she was: she urged him to sell his southern interests and to move to her county. He did, and the rest is history. They built a home on what is now Chatsworth House and it has been welcoming vistors ever since. And welcome they do.

                                  On the day we visited we actually saw the then Duchess of Devonshire walk through the rooms, busy in her role of preserving the treasures for which you can see many of her awards, presented to prove her conservation responsibilites while she was Duchess, with the late 11th Duke who died in May 2004.

                                  Thanks to her and a dedicated support team of conservationists, repairers and other trades people Chatsworth House must be one of the most treasured family homes in the United Kingdom.


                                  Chatsworth House is a bit different from other stately homes because it really does give you a feeling of being lived in. Even though the current family obviously resides in other quarters, the house is so wonderfully presented, there is a family presence; it's a treat to be in every room.


                                  My favourite area is the bedrooms where we saw Chinese painted wallpaper which I think was over 100 years old - magnificent. The amazing drapes over the beds were so beautifully printed and bobbled I will never forget them. Near here I remember the old thrones sent to Chatsworth House by a ruling King and Queen of England, way back.


                                  The attention to detail is evident in the
                                  Green Silk Room. The stripey wallpaper, obviously green, was apparently a bit tatty over several hundred years so they arranged for experts in the south of England to learn the trade to remake as close to the original green stripe wallpaper as possible. I believe it took them a year to learn how it was made and to do new papers in the same technique and to replace them.... the result is fantastic and it is such a pity I cannot provide pictures of this and the other stunning aspects I caught in the whole roll of film I took at Chatsworth House.


                                  If you go you must see the Chapel: I was fascinated by the huge marble feature in the high ceiling room, stunning. Also, near here I talked to the guide about the wooden room and he advised that one of the Dukes had seen an entire room of wood in Italy (I think) and had bought it and had it shipped to Chatsworth and used in a delghtful feature room which is still there for all to appreciate.

                                  All through the house you marvel at famous works of art which were mostly collected by the second and sixth dukes as well as the third Earl of Burlington. In the 18th century the second Duke was an expert who history says had an ``infinite love of the arts and a deep knowledge''. It's thanks to him you can now see a valued collection of Old Master drawings and fine paintings. The 3rd Earl of Burlington added furniture of William Kent for Chiswick, Inigo Jones designs and along came the Bachelor Duke in the 19th century, the 6th Duke who acquired works from international neo-classical sculptors in Rome.

                                  The library has to be one of the best private libraries to be found in the world as it has over 30,000 books including books of fine bindings over the last six centuries, a good lot of them are there due to the diligence and interest of the 6th Duke of Devonshire.


                                  I didn't visit the Archives but it is apparently a true and reliable source of learning about every day life at Chatsworth House since that formidable first dweller, Bess of Hardwick and all those who helped her and subsequent guardians of this most magnificent historic house.

                                  You cannot visit Chatsworth House without coming away hugely impressed at the collection: British and Old Masters, watercolours, portrait miniatures, sculpture, woodcarving, ceramics, gems and gold and silver, clocks, instruments used in science, photographs and changing special exhibitions. What impressed me is the quality of the treasures you see and the magnificent rooms they are housed in. You really need to go a second time to take it all in. I do so look forward to going back to absorb some of the things I am sure I missed the first time.

                                  We spoke to one of the friendly, very approchable ''stewards'' in the rooms and he estimated that Chatsworth House has around 4000 years of history in many different aspects taking in craftsmanship and art including the two royal thrones we saw, lace work carved from wood, a titanium fan of a Rolls Royce engine and a clock made of russian malachite. He was particularly proud of the fact that Chatsworth has some really different items to show how people lived and worked in centuries past, not only in Britain but all over Europe.

                                  As in some other public ``treasure buildings'' you can speak to the room stewards, use the audio guide or the guide books, all as you see it.

                                  `The Palace of the Peak' is honestly beautiful, it's design and the way it has evolved as a people place is truly a huge value to restoring the past in a way which catches the imagination of today's people.

                                  You can walk for miles, shop in the modern extremely well stocked farm shop and eat in its restaurant all year round but the garden, farmyard, house and gift shop is closed over winter. This year due to open on March 15, (2006).

                                  People visit for the day to take in the facilities but you can go for special educational tours, sewing days, or if you fancy following in the footsteps of Prince William you may well be able to negotiate a ``Work Experience''Day! Wonder if he took one of the Park Rides on a special trailer (which takes wheelchairs) for an hour long tour around about.

                                  You can actually ``live'' at Chatsworth House as it offers a variety of accommodation options on the estate: guest houses, holiday cottages, two caravan sites and the next-door Cavendish Hotel will welcome you when you visit this most beautiful part of England.

                                  Since his father, the 11th Duke died in May 2004, the 12th Duke, Peregrine Cavendish (Born in the same year as me 1948, but history has proved he has achieved quite a lot more than me in terms of real estate!!!) has challenges ahead. He is no doubt helped by the foresight of his father when he set up the Chatsworth House Trust, after three years negotiating with the government to ensure the future running of Chatsworth House would be financially secure, to serve as an asset for the public at large. It now stands proud, as an historic benefit for all; a preservation of house, contents, garden and park. I'd put it high on my list of ''English Bests'' and have no trouble recalling my visit there.

                                  It's in the Peak District National Park, a dominant feature as you drive in this rural wonderland, don't drive past, you are doing yourself a grave injustice - it's stunningly, seriously sensational.

                                  There's never a better time to visit as during 2006 there is to be an 8 room exhibition which celebrates the life and achievements of the 11th Duke, Andrew Cavendish (born 1920 and died 2004). See the rare books as well as the amazing Lucian Freud paintings along with little bits and pieces which make up the 50 years plus of public life of this great man whose stewardship of Chatsworth House has added emmense interest to its inventory. (I took a look into a website to get this agenda for 2006, I keep up with what's happening there as I am truly fascinated with this memorable place.)

                                  You can see large conservation work as it happens when the walls of the Painted Hall are spruced up during the time up to June this year: around 300 years of dirt and grime will come off as you watch it happen.

                                  The park is open year round and there is no charge.
                                  Garden open 11am to 5.30pm.
                                  House is open 11am to 5.30pm.
                                  Farmyard and adventure playground open 10.30am to 5.30pm.
                                  Shops open 11am to 5.30pm.
                                  Carriage house and restaurant and the stables : 10.15am to 5pm.
                                  Jean Pierres bar 11am to 4.30pm.


                                  Cost:
                                  HOUSE AND GARDEN : ADULTS gbp 9.75 (gpb12) SENIOR CITIZENS/STUDENTS gbp7.75 (gbp10), CHILDREN GBP3.50 (GBP4.50) fAMILY TICKET gbp 23 (GBP28.50) Bracket price includes the Scots Room: 9 additonal rooms in house, not always open.
                                  There are other prices for pre-booked groups.


                                  Garden only: adults gbp6, senior citizens/studens gbp6.75, children gbp2.75, family ticket gbp14.50.

                                  Farmyard and adventure playground: adults and children gbp4.50, under 3 year olds FREE. Group prices offered.

                                  Family pass for all attractions: gbp42.00 (2 adults and up to 4 children).
                                  Car park: one pound 50.

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