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Brewed in the southern Bohemian town of České Budejovice since 1895, Budweiser Budvar is definitely not to be confused with its younger, inferior American namesake. Taking its name from the town of its birth - Budweis was the old German name for the town before Czechoslovakia was founded - Budvar has 31% of the Czech beer market and is exported to more than sixty countries on four continents. Locked in a worldwide trademark dispute with Anheuser-Busch for the best part of a century over the rights to the Budweiser name, it's known as Czechvar in the US, though you'll find both products trading under the same name in Britain. Be careful which you buy because there really is no similarity beyond the title. Although both my sons had been raving about Budvar for years I only tasted it myself on a long weekend in Prague last August. One of several excellent Czech beers - I'd highly recommend Bernard, Staropramen, Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus as well - I tried, it's unfortunately a lot cheaper in its homeland than it is over here. I haven't seen it on tap in many places in Britain but it's on sale in bottles in an increasing number of pubs and you should be able to pick it up from any good supermarket. WHAT'S IT LIKE? As the temperature in Prague at the time of my visit was almost thirty degrees, I really needed something crisp and refreshing to drink in between being dragged around various overcrowded tourist sights by my youngest son. Golden in colour, slightly sweet tasting and wonderfully refreshing Budvar's real strength comes in its raw ingredients. The Saas hops from the Zamec region of North Bohemia are known as the best in the world, giving a slightly bitter taste after the initial sweetness. There are hints of fruit, and maybe a little vanilla. It's well carbonated without being gassy, has a nice head that isn't too big and has a lovely malt aroma that isn't overpowering. You get a ni
ce bit of lace around the glass and at 5% ABV it has a kick as well without being too strong. I fiund it went really well with the heavy Czech food but I've also drunk it back in Britain with curries and my Sunday roast both of which it accompanied very well. Overall Budvar is a very well balanced dry beer that is best served chilled and will leave you wanting more. Usually I'm not a big lager drinker but I found I was able to drink this for the best part of the day without feeling bloated or gassy. There's really nothing at all to dislike about this beer. On the other hand, the last time I drank the American version the only things I felt like doing more than once were belching and visiting the toilet. WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT. Budvar is not only a lovely beer that's superior in every respect to the horrible ice cold, taste free 'King of Beers', it's also the underdog in a worldwide battle against a brewing giant that thinks expensive TV commercials are more important than tradition and quality. Buying 'Bud' when you could have Budvar is a crime. WEBSITE www.budvar.cz
Who stole good Christmas TV? I'm sure it wasn't really as good as I remember it being when I was younger - my memory has filtered out all of the rubbish we must have got back then - but I can still recall enough to know that this year's offering has been terrible by comparison. BBC and ITV are locked in a game of chase the tail; it doesn't matter if something is good or bad anymore, just as long as it's cheap and somebody else has made some money out of it before. How else can you explain all those celebrity quiz shows, five heats of The World?s Strongest Man and New You've Been Framed? Take out The Office, which stood head and shoulders above everything else, and there has hardly been anything original, let alone halfway decent, on the main two channels this Christmas. When Out Take TV and repeats of Airline get primetime 7.30 slots at this time of year then something is very, very wrong. Dragging Only Fools and Horses out again wasn't much better; the only laughs came from Trigger's trademark stupidity. Funny, but we were laughing at the same jokes ten years ago, about the same time as John Sullivan lost the ability to develop his characters. What was the point of Damien? Didn't Boycie use to be funny? True, there have been some good films on over the past week: Amelie was a great choice for Christmas Day and I could happily watch Kes and Billy Elliot every single year (unlike The Great Escape), but where's the great comedy and original drama? Mayor of Casterbridge on ITV and The Office aside, everything else has been shunted on to BBC 2 or late night Channel 4. Most people have seen new films long before they get to terrestrial TV nowadays so surely the TV companies should be spending more time developing their own original programmes? Part of the problem is the senseless rivalry between BBC1 and ITV1 over the Christmas viewing figures. They're so caught up in who got the top spot on C
hristmas Day that they don't seem to have noticed the millions who are switching off - even the top two or three programmes this year barely scraped past fifteen million viewers. As much as I hate to admit it, there was a time when I used to look forward to seeing the Christmas TV schedules, when it was an essential part of the festivities. Now I'd sooner sit through the Queen's Speech than the average evening?s entertainment. The papers complain about repeats but they're nowhere near the worst of it. The TV executives obviously think that if you can't get away with putting the exact same show on time and time again then you just need to reheat it by making a celebrity / reality version, getting people who used to be famous to talk about it or adding it to some list or other. We had the 100 top film heroes and villains, the 100 greatest TV treats of 2003, the world's greatest bridges, best of programmes every other night, the 100 greatest musicals and anything else that could be stretched out over half a dozen commercial breaks, most featuring the same talking heads saying the same things between clips of the same programmes you've seen every Christmas since your first colour television. Nothing beats reality TV though. We've done the format to death now - the normal people who replaced the professional actors are so boring that they've brought back the boring professional actors to impersonate normal people. So we get lots of once famous people who can't get any other work anymore appearing on programmes alongside 'real' people who can't get any other work anymore. It's surely only a matter of time before we get 'Animal Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?', 'Teenage Probation Officer Swap' or 'Sink Estate Mastermind'. Short of asking Antony Worrall Thompson or Jim Davidson to write a celebrity dooyoo opinion, the only fitting way to end this is with a top five
list of the top ten Christmas programmes. At least it won't take me long to whittle the choices down. 1. The Office 2. Amelie 3. Kes 4. Billy Elliot 5. Arena: Alec Guinness If it's any consolation, digital TV wasn't much better. Thank goodness for sleep, alcohol and DVD players.
Founded in 1999 by the Japanese Itochu Corporation, I first came across the British offshoot of MyVoice (www.myvoice.co.uk) at the end of 2001. The idea was simple: every couple of days new polls on topical issues would go up on the site, typically taking two or three minutes to complete and paying anywhere between five and twenty points plus an entry into the monthly prize draws. Essentially these were used to build up a profile of each member as well as a hook to attract consumers for MyVoice's main business, market research on behalf of companies and organisations undertaken by selected members of the site who were paid upwards of 100 points for 5 to 10 minutes of their time. As soon as you reached 2000 points you could apply for a £20 voucher for online stores such as Amazon, Woolworths, Marks and Spencer and Tesco. It wasn't the fastest way to get online rewards - it took me a year to get a voucher - but it was easy, reliable and interesting. However, at the beginning of the year the site changed the rules, claiming they had become victims of their own success. New polls were to be less frequent and points would only be awarded to the first 1,500 respondents. Would the site survive? Would it still be worth logging on? THE SITE The homepage is very user friendly with new polls in the centre, registration and log in to the right, and tabs along the top allowing you to take polls, view results, win prizes, enter the member forums and read about the history of the site. Hovering over Win Prizes brings up a drop menu with links to past and latest winners as well as the current draws, while the Forums (available only to logged in members) are basically message boards with discussions on things like asylum seekers, the NHS and more on asylum seekers. The About Us section is very helpful and easy to understand with sections explaining how the site works, general and technical FAQs (useful if you have a hotmail account) and the earnin
g and spending of points. I've never had any real problems with the site itself, although it can be very slow at times. Navigation is simple and the lack of advertising gives the pages an uncluttered look. All the questions I had when I first joined were answered in the About Us section and you can contact the company at email@example.com if there?s anything else you need to know or if you want to suggest retailers to redeem your vouchers at. You get 50 points as soon as you register plus your own account page with personal details in the centre and a summary of points and prize draw entries down the right. Remember to scroll down and complete the extended profile questions for extra points - a total of 65 for questionnaires on home and work life, personal details and internet usage. REWARDS Starting with the positives, the site does pay out and the selection of vouchers is very impressive - including Asda, Boots, JJB Sports, House of Fraser, Selfridges, B&Q, Comet, the Arcadia fashion group (Burton, Dorothy Perkins etc), Virgin, Victoria Wine and Littlewoods. On the other hand, it takes much longer than a year to get enough points now that polls appear on the site around once a week at best. The site has extended the pay out to the first 6,000 respondents but the new polls are too far apart and only pay five points each. To be honest, while I can appreciate that MyVoice couldn't sustain a large amount of open to all polls that didn't bring any revenue into the company, I think they went too far to the other extreme in cutting both the frequency of the polls and the points awarded for each one. It's fair enough limiting the number of respondents but new polls really need to be on site at least every couple of days to keep people logging on. If not, then raising the pay out to ten points would at least help people to feel that their account balance was moving in the right direction. As it is, I've
only had two poll invitations in the last six months, both of which paid 100 points. The last one I received was at the weekend - three questions on Christmas shopping habits which took me less than two minutes to complete. Good, but not enough to keep me interested in the site for too long. Finally, for each new poll you complete you also get an entry into the monthly £1000 prize draw. There is also a quarterly draw for a £1000 holiday prize. You need to be over 18 years of age to earn rewards. HOW TO GET MORE POINTS Unfortunately, there's no way to ensure you get poll invitations; either your profile fits what they're looking for or it doesn't. You can earn a few extra points by completing the extended profiles on your account page and you also get 25 points for each new member you refer to the site (link on the home page above the current polls). It also pays to sign up for the email alerts of new polls (link on the home page), which at least gives you a fair chance of being among the first 6,000 people to take part. You're still going to have a long wait to get that £20 voucher though. IS IT WORTH JOINING? It depends. If you're very patient or fit the type of profile that marketing companies are looking for, then it is possible to get something out of the site. However, it takes so long for the majority of members to get anything in the way of a pay out nowadays that it's easy to sign up and then forget all about the site a few months later, especially as even signing up for the email alerts only gives you a decent chance of getting five points every fortnight or so. I don't like to praise MyVoice too highly as I'm sure they're making enough money to justify higher pay outs to the members, but I probably would just about recommend the site to a friend due to the range of vouchers on offer and the fact that they do pay out. When it comes to rewards though, I think MyVoice definitel
y lags behind the opinion sites as well as similar companies like www.yougov.com. Try it for yourself, but don't expect too much.
Although I'd seen the name YouGov in several national newspapers, I only logged on to the site when one of my children sent me a referral link by email. Not being very political, I didn't expect to find anything to interest me except the opportunity to earn a few extra pennies. Two months later www.yougov.com is one of my favourite sites. WHAT IS IT? The idea behind YouGov is very simple. Founded as an online research company by leading political commentators, the site has a database of ordinary people who it selectively invites to take part in polls for major clients like the NHS, Greenpeace, The Sunday Times, Channel 4, the TUC, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. The money saved by not having to employ staff to question people in the street is used to pay those invited to give their opinion in each survey (usually about 50 to 60p per poll). The site has over 100,000 members and forecasted the results of the last election to within 1% of the actual result. As well as the paid for polls, the site also has articles on politics and society by some very well known correspondents, analysis of the poll results and unpaid open access polls on lifestyle and public interest topics such as Music, Sport and Entertainment. THE SITE The homepage is very well designed with no pop ups or banner advertising and clear links to the Poll Reports, Open Access Polling and the About Us sections in the centre of the page. To the left are the areas for members to log in and view their accounts, and along the top you'll find links to poll archives and reports, Peter Kellner's columns, user support and new registrations. Navigation is very easy even for me, which means it should be child's play for most people. If you do have any problems, the FAQ in the user support section are very helpful and clearly explained. OPEN ACCESS POLLING except for occasional prizes), the polls are interes
ting enough to keep me coming back once or twice a week. You can currently vote on topics like 'Your Desert Island Discs', BBC vs ITV, the Rugby World Cup, Product Gripes and what you think about the service you receive from your bank. One problem I have with this section is that new polls aren't added often enough - before the recent rugby poll the last addition to the Sport section was in July. The exception to this is in the Current Affairs section where new polls accompany articles by John Humphrys every week or so. The other two sections in this area of the site are Letters to the Editor and Special Features. I don't usually bother much with the letters as they're mainly on politcial issues like the Hutton Inquiry and Cherie Blair (I get enough of that in my newspaper). The Special Features are (or were as they've stopped recently) much more interesting with polls and reports from the People's Think Tank on issues like how British Airways compares with other airlines, reactions to events in the news and views on homosexuality and the Church of England. One repondent, chosen at random, is awarded fifty pounds. REGISTERING After reading the brief terms and conditions you are asked to fill out a form which asks for the usual details (user name, password, age, name, address and contact numbers) as well as demographic information such as which party you voted for in the 2001 Election, how many cars your household has, when you finished full time education, the work history of yourself and your partner, how often you watch Newsnight, your marital status, religion and the newspaper you normally read. Some of these questions are quite personal but your answers are treated in confidence and the more details you complete, the more polls you're likely to be invited to participate in. The process should take less than ten minutes as you're only asked to click on options or select from drop down boxes. When
you're finished, your account is credited with one pound. If you've been referred by another member, remember to enter their email address in the second box from the top. YOUR ACCOUNT Once you've signed up you can view your account details every time you log in. As well as being able to amend your details, you can view a listing the polls you've recently completed, the credit you earned for each one, your total credit since joining and the money you've made from your referrals. THE POLLING CLUB The first thing to say about YouGov is that you definitely won't get rich through being a member of the Polling Club. My eldest son joined over two years ago and his account is still under thirty seven pounds. However, the new referral scheme means it is possible to make quite a bit of money through friends and acquaintances, as your account is credited along with theirs for every poll they complete in the first three months after they register. My wife and I have only joined in October and we've already earned almost five pounds each (almost ten pounds for the person who referred us). I've been sent eight polls since I registered, my wife a couple less. The subjects have included my political preferences (my view of Michael Howard and who I would vote for if there was an election tomorrow), the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium and my experiences with the local NHS Trust. Each poll has taken me around ten minutes to complete and I've earned between 50 and 75p for each one. The political polls are not very interesting for me but they're easy to complete and don't take up much of my time. The poll on the local NHS was perfect for me as I've had a lot of experience with them in the last few years but I wouldn't have felt able to communicate my opinion to the powers that be (newsletters are sent out to every MP containing details of recent polls) otherwise. It probably made no d
ifference but it definitely made me feel better. New polls are sent out by email. You just have to click on the link, log in and then complete the questions. Usually the polls consist of answers in boxes you only need to click on, though sometimes you are asked to type brief information if the poll requires more personal responses. You receive a cheque once your account reaches fifty pounds. I have to say that I don't know anybody who has been paid yet, but given the standing of the people involved in the site and the fact is the 27th positive dooyoo opinion of the site, I'm very confident that they do pay out. As I said at the beginning, I only started using YouGov so that my son could earn a little more money. However, I now click on the site at least once every two days, even when I haven't received any poll invitations. A lot of the articles are quite interesting even for someone like myself with hardly any interest in politics and the open access polls are varied enough to have something of interest to anyone. Throw in the opportunity to be paid for communicating the things you normally moan about to people who might be able to do something about it and you can't really go wrong. Have a look for yourself.
Thanks to Malu for the questions. Q: How many times a year do you travel? More than I can afford and not as often as I'd like to. I usually manage to get abroad once or twice a year at my own expense - Malta or Spain in spring or autumn. I also have an all expenses paid five day trip to Alicante and the Cosat Blanca every September as I work for a Spanish company. Once the conference and inspection tours are out of the way I usually have at least a couple of days free. ________________________________________ Q: For how long do you go away? Usually somewhere between a week and ten days. I can't really stay away any longer because of work, which is just as well as my wife packs enough clothes as it is. Now that easyjet have started flying from Newcastle airport, I also have an occasional long weekend away; my last holiday was four days in Prague at the end of August. _________________________________________ Q: Do you stay in your home country or do you go abroad? I prefer going abroad nowadays because I travelled a lot in Britain when I was younger. We do try to have a couple of weekends a year up in Scotland or Northumberland, and we regularly drive to Hexham, Seahouses and Bamburgh in the summer. Other than that it's cheaper for me to fly abroad nowadays than it would be to take the train to London. __________________________________________ Q: Do you organise your holidays yourself or do you go to a travel agency? A bit of a mixture of everything to be honest. Being a bit of an old duffer I still spend hours in front of the Teletext holiday pages chasing all the last minute bargains, though I'm relying more and more on the internet as online bookings are cheaper with easyjet and ryannair. I tend to book my main holidays through travel agents, the odd weekend away online, and then the company organises the odd trip to Spain for me as well. __________________________________________ Q: Do you prepare your holidays in advance by reading guidebooks and studying maps? Not really, though my children always tell me I should. They usually give me advice on the best bars and restaurants to go to, and then I disappoint them when I get back by telling them I forgot all the names. Most of the time I'm just returning to places I've visited many times before though. The new things are a nice surprise and I don't need a guidebook to tell me about the rest. ____________________________________________ Q: Do you travel alone/with family or friends/with an organised group? The only times I travel as part of an organised group are the company conferences and my very rare trips to see Newcastle United play in Europe. Now that the kids are grown up it's usually just my wife and I, though her sister sometimes joins us and my children invite me to go away with them if they can't find anybody else daft enough to. I don't think I've ever travelled alone; I prefer to have a bit of company. ___________________________________ Q: Do you prefer the sea / mountains / plains / cities as destinations? Nowadays it's cities and the sea for me everytime. I suffer from arthritis so mountains don't really have any appeal for me anymore (not that I liked walking uphill even when I was able to). I'm not really a beach person, though I do like to laze around by the water. If I want to go somewhere really quiet I can just drive for thirty minutes into Northumberland, so when I go abroad I prefer places with a bit of life. ______________________________________ Q: Do you mainly relax or are you an active holidayer? Only if drinking pints and complaining about the heat count as activities. I have quite a time consuming job so when I go on holiday I really like to put my feet up and relax. I do like the
sights of a place, but after that it's back to a restaurant for a long meal and then straight on to the pub. Having said that, when I went to Prague with my youngest son he had me walking round town all day because he was too tight to pay for a Metro ticket. I suppose there are worse places in the world to work up a thirst. ____________________________________ Q: If you go abroad do you learn at least some words of the foreign language? I've always been terrible at foreign languages. My kids tried to teach me a bit of Spanish a few years ago but it mostly went straight in one ear and back out the other. I know just enough to get by and then I leave the rest up to my wife. Mind, coming from Newcastle, it feels like I'm hearing a foreign language every time I drive south of Scotch Corner. _____________________________________ Q: Are you interested in the cuisine of a foreign country? Definitely. One of my children lived in Asia for three years so I've had the chance to try out a lot of Korean, Japanese and Chinese dishes (never got the hang of chopsticks though). My favourite foreign food is paella, though I harly ever get the chance to eat it when I'm in Spain because my wife is a vegetarian and I'm not greedy enough to eat a portion for two. Other than that, I'm a big fan of curry and anything foreign that contains alcohol. _______________________________________ Q: Which means of transportation do you prefer? I like driving but it's difficult for me to manage long distances anymore. A drunken mini cruise to Hamburg with my brother-in-law put me off ferries so I think I'd have to go for aeroplanes, especially with prices as low as they are right now. ________________________________________ Q: What kind of luggage do you take with you? Have you got problems packing? Do you tend to take too many / too few things with you? I try to take as little as I can mainly because my wife always seems to have the exact opposite idea. If I ever really need anything else, I just buy it when I'm away. _________________________________________ Q: Do you send picture postcards to your family and friends? No. One of the great advantages of modern travel is the ability to send a text message with one hand while you're holding a pint glass in the other. My wife sometimes sends postcards but they always arrive just after we've given up on ever seeing them again.
Though winter definitely isn't my favourite season there are a few things that I really like about this time of year - the football on Boxing Day, Christmas dinner (the eating part not the hours I spend in the kitchen before and after) and, best of all, the feeling you get when you have your hands wrapped around a hot alcoholic drink, the taste burning your throat and the steam rising up through your nose. Let's face it, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if you had to stay sober for more than five minutes. HOT BUTTERED RUM 1 teaspoon of brown sugar 120ml of boiling water 1 whole clove 60ml of dark rum 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter An eighth of a teaspoon of grated nutmeg Pour the boiling water into a large glass and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Add the clove and the rum, float the butter on top and dust the whole lot with nutmeg. ELENI'S EARL 2 tablespoons of brandy 1 tablespoon of Bols triple sec 1 teaspoon of honey A cup of hot Earl Grey tea Preheat a mug, combine the ingredients and stir. My favourite Christmas drink of all. MALIBU HOT CHOCOLATE 2 tablespoons of Malibu 250ml of hot chocolate (approx. one cup) Mix the Malibu and hot chocolate together in a mug. Add a dollop of whipped cream if you've got an extra sweet tooth. ITALIAN COFFEE 50ml of amaretto (http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/food_and_beverages/drinks/amaretto/) 1 tablespoon of brandy 150ml of hot coffee Be careful with this one as amaretto is a bit of an acquired taste. GLÜHWEIN I first tasted this when one of my sons brought back a bottle from a German Christmas Market a couple of years ago. The recipe was easy enough to find on the internet and it's simple enough to make. Wonderful on frosty mornings, just as long as you don't have to work afterwards. 3 cups of water 240ml of sugar 12 cloves 2 cinnamon sticks 1 lemon peel 750ml of red wine 60ml of brandy Simmer the water with sugar, cloves,cinnamon and lemon peel in a pot for 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and heat (but don't boil or you'll lose the wine!). Add brandy and pour into a coffee mug. CALYPSO COFFEE My daughter's favourite. 120ml of hot coffee. 3 tablespoons of Tia Maria 1 tablespoon of dark rum 60ml of heavy cream Mix the coffee, rum and Tia Maria together. Pour the cream over the back of a teaspoon so it floats on top of the drink. COOKED EGGNOG 6 eggs 57g of sugar (about a quarter of a cup) 1 litre of milk (divided into 2 X 500ml) 1 teaspoon of vanilla Beat the eggs and sugar together in a large saucepan (you can add a pinch of salt for a little extra taste). Stir in half of the milk and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the milk along with the vanilla. Cover the saucepan and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, pour the wggnog into a bowl and serve immediately. The perfect way to have a merry Christmas.
This Q&A challenge can help newbies find out what dooyoo is about and, if many established members participate, what the community is like and will hopefully convince them to stay and become active. To be sure, everything has been said before, but has it had any impact? Only for a limited time until the opinion disappeared from the front page. by presenting the tips on helping new members in the form of a questionnaire which can be done by several members the impact can perhaps be prolonged. several members, better: many members, to show that many roads lead to dooyoo. Q: When did you join dooyoo? Back in the middle of July 2001. Time does go quickly! Q: How did you discover dooyoo? One of my sons came across a link on one of the freebie sites and signed up. He pestered me into writing so he could make some extra money through the referral. _________________________________________________________ Q: Why did you join? Mainly because of my son, but I wouldn't have written more than one opinion if the site hadn't been any good. I wasn't really bothered about the financial aspect because I knew I wouldn't be writing very often. There were enough interesting opinions to make me want to stay. __________________________________________________ Q: What was your very first opinion on? Funnily enough it was on dooyoo itself. I couldn't think of anything else to write about and it seemed like a good place to start. I waited a week and then wrote a product review. Unfortunately I couldn't find the correct category for it and I got a few NU ratings before I managed to get it moved. ______________________________________________ Q. Did you find it easy to get the hang of dooyoo? I had a few problems finding categories at first (dooyoo was confusing even before aurora!) but there were still staff members that you could ask for help at that time.
None of the minor problems I had were enough to put me off, though I sometimes wonder if I'd stay for long if I joined the site today. ______________________________________________________ Q. Did you read other opinions before you posted your first one? I think I read four or five of my son's early opinions before I got round to posting myself. I probably didn't read as much as I should have. I suppose if there's one tip I'd give to any new member, it would be to read and rate as much as you can before you post your first op. It's very easy to get off on the wrong foot when you join a site like this and much more difficult to lose the tag of being a churner or revenge rater. _______________________________________________ Q: Do you write no/some/many comments? I don't write many comments to be honest because it takes me a long time to type even one or two sentences. I do like getting comments myself so I try to leave them when I can. ______________________________________________ Q: When you click on the list of Newest Reviews, do you read your friends' opinions no matter what they're on/according to subject no matter who has written on it/preferably the opinions of new writers? I tend to read my friends' opinions as often as I can, though I don't have any one on alerts so I sometimes miss an opinion or two. There are some categories that I'm just not interested in - computer games for example - so I usually steer clear of those opinions. If I have the time I try to click on as many new writers as I can, but usually I'm so busy that I just scan down for recognizable names or topics. I also try to read at least four or five opinions every time I post one myself because I think it's very bad manners to log on, post an opinion and then log straight back out. _____________________________________________ Q: Do you w
rite your opinions in one sitting? No, because it takes me too long to type things up. I usually manage to get about half of an opinion done before I need to take a break. I come back a few hours later and post it as soon as I've finished. It's probably better to write opinions that way as you get a chance to have a proper read through before putting it on the site. ____________________________________________________ Q: How often do you post a new opinion? Thirty opinions in over two years tells it's own story! I normally write in fits and starts, a two month break and then three or four opinions in a few weeks. It depends on how busy I am and whether I'm in the mood to sit at the computer waving my fingers over the keyboard. Q. Do you use a spell check? I always type my opinions on Word, spell check and then cut and paste on to dooyoo. I also look back through the text and edit out all the question marks before I post an opinion. I'm sure there's an easier way to do it but I'm set in my ways. _______________________________________________ Q: Do you think you can improve your chances to get a crown if you suck up to a guide? I think you can improve your chances of a crown by putting more effort into your opinions. Some people spend more time complaining than they ever do spell checking or proof reading their work. I suppose guides are more kindly disposed to certain people but I really don't think any of the Guides would nominate their friends at the expense of other writers. Crowns aren't the be all and end all anyway, though the extra money is nice. ________________________________________________ Q: Are you a member of a forum or a chat room? No. When I'm not on dooyoo I use the internet to read the football gossip, book flights and check my emails. I don't have time for chat rooms, and even if I did, I don
9;t think I'd get on the computer when my daughter's around. _______________________________________________ Q: Does it get to you when members praise or condemn you? It's always good to get a nice comment or two. I've never had any run ins with people on dooyoo so I don't know what online condemnation feels like. I have seen a few spats on dooyoo but I don't see the point in getting so worked up myself. Live and let live. _____________________________________________________ Q: What did you do in your spare time before you joined dooyoo? Watched TV and mooched around the house acting like Victor Meldrew. I still do both now, just a little less than I used to. ______________________________________________ Q: What do you wish for the future? Question marks back, more members and enough money to get another amazon voucher. If you want to participate, please add: Please don't take this challenge to ciao without asking MALU, she'd rather decide herself what to do with a text she's written, when to take it there or if at all. Thank you.
Trying to pick your top ten websites is a more difficult task than you might think. I didn't realise I visited so many sites until I started this list, and I?m sure I'll remember a good few more that I've missed within a few minutes of posting this. I left out the sites that everybody knows about already like www.google.co.uk, www.amazon.co.uk and www.bbc.co.uk, as well as anything I've already written about on dooyoo like www.octopustravel.com. Here's what's left: www.asiarecipe.com I found this site after my eldest son, who had just returned from working in Asia, made a wonderful Korean dish for the family to try (though he did his best to ruin the taste!). As well as recipes for main dishes, vegetarian meals, desserts and sauces from twenty-two Asian countries, the site also has cultural information, cooking methods, news headlines and discussion pages where you can pick up cooking tips for all those lovely recipes. www.ilovelanguages.com A very simple site that carries links to online dictionaries, translation resources and free web based instruction for nearly 200 languages. If you're trying to learn a language then this is the best place on the internet to start. Alternatively, you can teach yourself Saxon or search for language schools worldwide. www.myvillage.com Guides to local communities throughout Britain, including links to news sites, job listings, details of pubs, clubs, cinemas, restaurants and festivals and message boards. The pages are split into twenty-three different cities and areas from Southampton to the Highlands and Belfast to Norwich. It's an excellent resource if you?re planning to visit another area of the country. www.ntb.org.uk Talking of which, my favourite part of the country is undoubtedly Northumbria, which is luckily right here on my doorstep. The official site of the Northumbrian Tourist Board is an excellent place to start
planning a trip to England's unspoilt wilderness, home to more than fifty castles, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Roman forts, Saxon priories, Viking fortresses and deserted beaches. Just don't tell anyone else about it! www.igoyougo.com One of the many sites I've discovered through my children, igoyougo is basically a site for travellers to write short guides to places they've visited in return for rewards like frequent flier miles, gift vouchers and travel equipment such as luggage, hiking gear and cameras. The site is based in the USA so there are postal surcharges on the delivery of most of the rewards, though amazon vouchers will apparently be added very soon. You get points for writing travel journals - an overview of a destination (highlights, quick tips and the best way to get around) plus five other short pieces (500 word maximum) on hotels, tours, famous sights, restaurants or activities. The journals are rated anonymously by your peers and are also read by a staff member, who awards extra points for high quality work. To get most points try to upload photographs to illustrate your journals and check the Hot Destinations lists for bonus points. There's no need to wait for suggestions to be added (you can write about anywhere you want), the staff are very helpful, the standard of the submissions is very good and I know for a fact that they deliver rewards as promised. There are also lots of user forums where you can post travel questions or ask established members for advice about the site. Even if you're not interested in writing it's a great place to find travel information. www.xe.com The most widely used currency converter on the net, xe.com has exchange rates for every currency (over 180 from 250 countries and territories). There are also specialist services for webmasters and business travellers. Fast, accurate and easy to use - just type in the amount, select the currencies from the d
rop down boxes (Euro, Sterling Yen, US and Canadian dollars at the top, then alphabetical listing), and click on convert. I need to check the rate of the Euro quite a bit in my line of work and this by far the best converter I've found. www.fastmail.fm As the name suggests, fastmail is another extremely rapid service. Free accounts offer IMAP/ WEB access, up to 40 MB storage space, a 45-day inactivity period and 40 MB bandwidth per month, making it an ideal backup for the days when Hotmail is on one of its go slows. It's not very pretty to look at but it does have lots of interesting features such as the ability to retrieve email from other your other accounts, an online users' forum and the option to bounce spam back to the sender, making your email account seem inactive. Paid for accounts start at $14.95 a year, and there?s a full list of frequently asked questions at http://www.fastmail.fm/docs/faqparts/FMFAQ.htm. www.webshots.com A great place to store your digital photos, a free account with Webshots allows you to upload your own pictures as well as view and download almost 40 million pictures from other users split into categories like Travel, Sport, Scenery and Family & Friends. You can also email links to your account and make your own customised eCards. www.planetfootball.co.uk My favourite site for all the latest football news. As well as club-by-club coverage of the Premiership, there is excellent coverage of all the major international leagues and competitions, reviews of football books and regular feature articles by some very famous names. www.fantasy.premierleague.com The official Fantasy League is completely free and has monthly prizes of Budweiser goody bags to the top ten managers plus an end of season grand prize of a VIP trip to a Premier League game of your choice, two nights hotel accommodation and £250 spending money. Not bad for nowt!
On the south bank of the Tyne, seven miles east of Newcastle and a few miles north of Sunderland, South Shields has been inhabited since the Stone Age. It's the birthplace of Monty Python's Eric Idle, Hollywood directors Ridley and Tony Scott, authors Catherine Cookson and Elinor Brent-Dyer and the actress Dame Flora Robson, as well as the location of some of the best beaches in the whole of Britain. The first recorded inhabitants of the town were from a Celtic tribe called the Brigantes, who founded a settlement called Caer Urfa ("The Town on the Rock") and used the river to trade with the Phoenicians. The Romans came in AD80, built a fort to supply Hadrian's Wall that can still be seen today, and started ferry services using boatmen from the Tigris (in modern day Iraq), starting a tradition of Arab settlers continued by sailors from the Yemen in the early 20th century. Although there were race riots in 1919 and 1930 the Arab community become a permanent part of the town - Muhammad Ali opened a mosque here in 1977 and the locals proudly call themselves Sanddancers rather than Geordies or Mackems. South Shields grew around the river and the sea. Even its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Shieling, meaning a fisherman's hut. The first big shipyard opened in 1720 and William Wouldhave, parish clerk at a local church, designed the world's first lifeboat seventy years later. South Shields Maritime College opened in 1837 and is still a world leader today attracting students from all corners of the globe. Nowadays the shipyards, quarries and coal mines are all but memories, but there is still plenty of life left in the town. ATTRACTIONS THE BEACHES AND THE SEAFRONT If you walk down Ocean Road, the first beach you'll come to is Sandhaven, which has some lovely dunes and a Blue Flag for cleanliness. Known as the big beach, this is the most popular in the summer and runs for three quarters o
f a mile between the South Pier and the Leas (where the Great North Run finishes). There are some excellent pubs on the edge of the sand and an elevated walkway behind the dunes leads to the amphitheatre and the Marsden Rattler, an old railway carriage now converted into a pub and restaurant. You'll also find Ocean Beach Pleasure Park here, which first opened in 1897. The rides aren't that exciting but the new ten pin bowling centre is good and you can easily pick up discount vouchers throughout the summer. Just to the north, between the South Pier and the Tyne, and down a flight of steps from North Marine Park, is Littlehaven. The small beach here is much quieter, perfect if you want to get away from the crowds and fairground noise. Don't miss The Conversation Piece while you're here, 22 bronze life-size figures sculpted by the Spanish artist Juan Munoz (www.schoolshows.demon.co.uk/resources/articles/weebles.htm). The locals call them the weebles because of their circular bases and they've become something of a landmark in the town. But my favourite beaches are on the other side of Sandhaven, especially Trow Rocks, which is about a mile south of the Tyne. The beach here is wild and remote, with an old gun emplacement, limestone cliffs and the grassy Leas up above. Further on is Marsden Bay, with the famous Marsden Rock - now without the arch but still home to colonies of Kittiwakes, Cormorants and Fulmars - and the Marsden Grotto Pub. The area used to be a haunt for smugglers, who would drink at a hostelry hewn into the rock by a local quarryman called Jack the Blaster in 1782. The pub has been closed for a few years now but it's due to re-open soon, and it's definitely one of the oddest places in the North East to sup a few pints. PARKS Ocean Road and the Wouldhave Memorial, where the Tyne, the second oldest lifeboat in Britain, is displayed, separate North and South Marine Park, both of which were cr
e ated at the end of the 19th century out of ballast hills formed by ships from all over the world. The north park is smaller, with a large boating lake (mistakenly mined by the Germans in 1941), hundreds of swans and a miniature steam railway for the kids. Across the road, South Marine Park has some lovely floral displays and continues all the way up to Lawe Top with great views over the North Sea. FESTIVALS The Cookson Festival takes place every year between the beginning of June and the end of August. There are free concerts in the Amphitheatre on Sea Road, brass bands in West Park and open air events in Bents Park, King Street and Sandhaven. Everything is free, and performers this year included The Animals, Bad Manners, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Five Star and ABC. The highlight of this year's festival was the Cultures Together parade with performers from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. THE MARKET South Shields is home to one of the biggest markets in the region. The marketplace, which was bombed to the point of dereliction in World War 2, is a short walk away from both the Metro station and the ferry landing at the end of King Street, in a cobbled square with the old 18th century Town Hall in the centre. The main market takes place every Monday and Saturday selling everything from flowers to art works. There is also a Flea Market on Fridays and an extra market day on Wednesdays between Easter and October. St Hilda's Church, just off the south side of the square, was first built in AD650, although the present building dates from 1790. SHOPPING, EATING OUT AND NIGHTLIFE The main shopping street in the town is King Street. You'll find all the usual high street names here like Woolworth's and Marks and Spencer, although my kids prefer to do their shopping in Newcastle city centre. Walking away from the market, King Street becomes Ocean Road at the corner just past McDonald's. Oce
an Road leads right up to the seafront and is famous in the North East for its ten Indian restaurants. The Naseeb is my favourite, though there's not too much difference between them all. Of course, no trip to the seaside would be complete without fish and chips. The best places in town are both in Ocean Road - the huge Colman's and the walk-in Red Hut, which takes its name from the hut on the seafront where it used to be located, where the staff would take your orders while you queued and have them ready by the time you reached the front. For ice cream you can't do better than Minchellas. They have parlours in Ocean Road and Sandhaven and a kiosk at Marsden Bay. http://www.southshields-sanddancers.co.uk/eating.htm There are over 80 pubs in and around the town centre with the Alum House (next to the ferry landing) and the Dolly Peel on Commercial Road catering for the real ale drinkers, and bars like The Criterion, Rosie Malones, Raffles and Kirkpatricks packed at weekends. The main drinking areas are around the Town Hall (a beautiful building) at the top of Fowler Street and around the corner of Ocean Road and King Street. http://www.regularsreunited.co.uk/towns/south-shields/tyne-wear/ has a full list. SPORTING FACILITIES The biggest leisure centre in the town is Temple Park, which has a swimming pool with a 50 metre long aqua slide. Except for that and Gypsies Green athletics stadium there's not much else around to be honest, unless you want to see the South Shields football team. Formed in 1897, the club was elected to the second division of the Football League in 1919 before they folded in 1930. Today they play in the Northern League, and their ground is next door to Bede Metro station in Jarrow, a couple of minutes from the Barbour Factory Shop (the company started out with a stall in Shields Market) and ten minutes from St Paul's Church and Bede's World.
http://www.geocities.com/south_shieldsfc/index.html THE CUSTOMS HOUSE Built in 1860, the Customs House was once the centre of maritime trade in South Shields, though when I was a kid it the only life inside the building was created by thousands of pigeons. It's been fully restored in the last decade or so and now houses a cinema, art gallery, theatre and restaurant. Even if you're not going inside it?s still worth making the short walk from the ferry landing to see the old cobbled streets and riverside buildings nearby, or at least the ones that weren't moved brick by brick to Beamish Museum. www.customshouse.co.uk ARBEIA ROMAN FORT Built on a rocky outcrop by the Romans in AD160, the ruins of Arbeia have been transformed in recent years. The reconstructed West Gate and Commander's House are superb, and admission to both is completely free. Hop on the ferry to North Shields afterwards for Segedumum, which was recently voted one of the top 100 museums in the world! http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/cityguide_travel/city_guide/arbeia_roman_fort_and_muse um/ SOUTER LIGHTHOUSE A short walk south of Marsden Bay, Souter Lighthouse was the first in the world to be powered by electricity when it opened in 1871. It's now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public between March and October. http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/cityguide_travel/city_guide/souter_lighthouse_1/ SOUTH SHIELDS MUSEUM The museum is located at the bottom of Ocean Road, opposite Asda and across from the statue of the man with the donkey, John Simpson Kirkpatrick. Though born and brought up in South Shields (where he worked on the donkey rides at the beach), Kirkpatrick is a national hero in Australia. Serving as a field ambulance stretcher bearer he used abandoned donkeys to help him carry more than 300 wounded soldiers to safety during 24 days of fighting at Gallipoli If you're interested i
n reading about an unknown British hero, I'd highly recommend the following site: http://www.anzacday.org.au/spirit/hero/chp00.html The museum is being refurbished at the moment and is due to re-open early next year with improved displays on South Tyneside and Catherine Cookson. The town's tourist information office is still open at the front of the building. GETTING TO SOUTH SHIELDS The Metro is the easiest way to get to South Shields if you're coming from Newcastle or the Airport. The journey from Newcastle city centre takes less than thirty minutes, and South Shields station is located in the middle of the main shopping area, King Street. The Tyne Ferry landing is just behind the Market Place at Mill Dam, though you'd have to get the Metro from Newcastle to North Shields first. The town also has great road links, with the A194 and A19 both linking to the A1(M). www.tyneandwearmetro.co.uk www.s-tyneside-mbc.gov.uk/visitingus/travel.asp An open top sightseeing bus has started running this summer, calling at 12 stops including Bede's World in Jarrow, Souter Lighthouse, the Customs House and South Shields metro station. The service runs in July and August and tickets are £4 for adults and £2 for children. www.citysightseeing.co.uk PLACES TO STAY The most expensive accommodation is at the Sea Hotel on Sea Road and the Little Haven beside the beach of the same name. Both have excellent locations, the Little Haven looking out over the harbour, seafront and Tynemouth Priory. There are several guesthouses along Ocean Road, two of the best being the Ainsley and the Aquarius, as well as caravan parks at Sandhaven and Lizard Lane. http://website.lineone.net/~d.ord/aspsosh.htm is an excellent website, full of the history of South Shields and modern and period photographs. http://www.gonortheast.co.uk/attraction_pics/attractions_st.html has a full list o
f attractions along with details of bus services.
With offices in London, Sydney, Osaka, Hong Kong and Los Angeles and special rates on more than 15,000 hotels in 112 countries, Octopus Travel (www.octopustravel.com) is one of the biggest hotel discounters on the web. I first discovered them through their affiliate scheme with easyjet and have had absolutely no cause for complaint since. BOOKING YOUR HOTEL Their homepage is split into three vertical sections, general information on the left (travel guides, currency converter, weather reports and passport/visa information), special offers on the right and booking facilities for hotels, excursions, apartments and group bookings (nine people or more) down the centre. Everything is clearly spaced and, with the choice of translation into German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French, Chinese and Japanese, extremely user friendly. The travel guides are particularly helpful - written by independent experts and covering more than 200 destinations from Amsterdam to Zurich and Xian to Bangalore. I especially like the See & Do sections, with discount vouchers, opening times and up-to-date information on closures and special exhibitions. There's even a selection of useful phrases with phonetic spelling to help your pronunciation. The booking process is simple. Drop-down boxes allow you to select your country of residence and the currency you wish to see prices displayed in, your destination, check in date and the length of your stay. You then select your room type and number of beds from a list that helpfully includes both single and twin for sole use options. Another interesting feature is the 'Special Events in this City' search, allowing you to time your stay to coincide with or avoid major events and peak periods. The available hotels are listed vertically, cheapest at the top, with details of facilities, location, star rating, meals included and price (including all taxes and charges). The confirmation status will be either Immedi
ate or On Request. In the case of Immediate bookings the rooms are held exclusively for Octopus Travel, who will send you a confirmation email within a few minutes of your booking and forward your name to the hotel 72 hours before arrival. On Request means that no pre-assigned rooms are available, in which case Octopus Travel will contact the hotel to check availability. You're guaranteed a reply within 48 hours - an alternative will be offered if the request is unsuccessful. Before you proceed any further you can also view a more detailed report on each hotel, giving information on location, number of rooms, type of food served, the lobby and a general overview. Click on the camera icon to the right of the hotel name to view photographs of the exterior, reception, restaurant and bedrooms. The remainder of the booking process takes a maximum of five minutes, including an option to request adjoining or non-smoking rooms and to notify the hotel of a late arrival (after 7pm). Payment can be made using American Express, Visa, MasterCard and all UK Switch and Debit cards. If it's your first booking, you'll need to enter your home and billing address; if you've booked before your email address will suffice. You will then be given a unique booking number and an account that can be accessed using an email address and password. YOUR ACCOUNT Each individual account is accessible from the site's home page. As well as a list of all previous bookings this is also the place where your hotel voucher can be found, which you'll need to print off and present when you check in to your hotel. It's not quite as professional looking as other companies - Hotel Connect (www.hotel-connect.com) send you a glossy pamphlet for each hotel as well as your booking confirmation for instance - but this is reflected in the price, which is usually at least a couple of pounds cheaper than similar sites. As well as the booking details the voucher
also has a basic map showing the hotel's location. CHANGING BOOKINGS Amendments cost £10 if made more than 72 hours prior to departure rising to £20 for last minute requests. There is a 24-hour cooling-off period on all bookings made more than 72 hours in advance of arrival. After that, cancellation charges start at £20. CONTACT DETAILS Their call centre is open 8 - 10 Monday to Friday and 9 - 5 at weekends. Calls are charged at national rate. 0870 9090191. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Remember that in the case of Immediate bookings your name will not be forwarded to the hotel until 72 hours before your arrival. If you have any problems before then, you'll need to contact Octopus Travel. OTHER SERVICES Aside from hotels you can also book sightseeing tours on the site, searching by city, date and language. A quick search under Acapulco brings up a boat ride on the Coyuca Lagoon costing £46.75 for six and a half hours. Closer to home, I found a York City sightseeing tour for £5.75. The Apartments service is new so there is no on-line booking facility just yet. Locations include France, Cyprus, Italy and Spain and bookings can be made through the Call Centre. MY EXPERIENCE As I said at the beginning, I've used Octopus Travel on several occasions without any problems at all, as have my two sons. The prices are very competitive, the hotels I've used have all been clean and well located, and there is ABTA protection if anything does go wrong. I'll definitely be using them again.
As far as price is concerned, airline passengers in Europe have never had it so good. Every few months seems to bring a new no-frills operator offering flights to the continent for less than it would cost you to take the train between two English counties. Since Ryanair re-launched itself in 1991, copying a business model started by Southwest in the U.S.A. twenty years earlier, no-frills airlines have mushroomed in Europe, and have now spread to Australia, South America and Malaysia. Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) really cashed in with the deregulation of the air business in the EU six years ago. They now carry 15,000,000 passengers every year between 85 destinations and have plans to add another 50 routes. They fly to some interesting destinations - Sicily, Sardinia and Oslo for example - but they are arguably the worst offenders when it comes to the distance of the airport from the city you've booked to go to. What's advertised as Barcelona, for example, is actually Girona, Brussels is really Charleroi, Paris Beauvais and Frankfurt Hahn. This is usually reflected in the price however. They tend to have better punctuality figures than easyjet - my last two flights with them landed fifteen minutes ahead of schedule - but they also seem to have attracted the most negative publicity over the years, not least when they took over buzz earlier this year. Their main rivals are easyjet (www.easyjet.com), founded in 1995. I don't think there's that much to choose between the two, although easyjet seem to have a few more frills than ryanair. For instance, ryanair's check-in staff at Newcastle Airport are sub-contracted from Servisair while easyjet have their own uniformed personnel. Also, easyjet have an entertaining in-flight magazine while ryanair's just lists the tax free products that are available to buy. Easyjet's takeover of Go has bequeathed them some interesting routes such as Prague and Naples; in all they operate 105
routes between 38 airports. Prices are sometimes a little higher than ryanair but when you book a flight to Barcelona or Paris you land at the same airport as British Airways. Both airlines are currently eyeing up destinations like Warsaw, Tallinn, Krakow and Riga, which will be inside the EU from next year. OTHER OPERATORS Now (www.now-airlines.com) Now aims to revolutionize the no-frills business by offering every seat on each flight at exactly the same price. This will raise the cheapest fares but lower the most expensive ones, giving easyjet and ryanair something to think about. Flights start from October from Luton, though they do seem to be having a lot of teething troubles at the minute. Destinations are grouped in six zones, with flights in each zone costing exactly the same fare. The destinations are Manchester (Zone A; £35), Jersey (Zone B; £40), Dusseldorf and Hamburg (Zone C; £45), Ibiza, Rome and Valencia (Zone D; £55), Lisbon (Zone E; £65) and Tenerife (Zone F; £75). British European (www.flybe.com) Allow you to change tickets up to two hours before departure (minimum charge of £25) and fly from a number of UK airports including Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Belfast, Heathrow, Exeter, Leeds-Bradford, Birmingham and Luton. Destinations include Paris, Bergerac, Milan, Alicante and the Channel Islands. Jet2 (wwwjet2.com) They only fly out of Leeds-Bradford at the moment with destinations including Faro, Malaga, Alicante, Geneva, Nice, Prague, Amsterdam and Barcelona. Virgin Express (www.virgin-express.com) Took over the hub airport of Brussels when Sabena collapsed. Unlike other no-frills airlines they allow you to book a single journey between two European airports with a connection in Brussels (usually no-frills operators offer what they call a point-to-point service. You can't book an onward journey as part of the same transaction, and if you miss a connection be
cause your first plane was late they refuse all liability). Flying out of London City, onward destinations from Brussels include Lisbon, Athens, Stockholm, Madrid and Copenhagen. bmibaby (www.bmibaby.com) The no-frills arm of British Midland flies from Teesside, Manchester, East Midlands, Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh to Prague, Amsterdam, Brussels, Pisa, Nice, Ibiza, Salzburg and Geneva. Volare (http://w3.volareweb.com/index.html) An Italian operator flying from Gatwick to Venice and Rimini. Prices start at 10 euros. Sky Europe (www.skyeurope.com) A Slovakian no-frills airline with flights from Stansted to Bratislava and Paris. Prices start at 25 euros. Air Berlin (www.airberlin.de) The best known of the German no-frills airlines. They fly from Stansted to Vienna and several destinations in Germany including Hamburg, Nuremburg, Berlin-Tagel, Dortmund and Hanover. Air Scotland (www.air-scotland.com) The new kids on the block currently fly from Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Newcastle to mainland Spain and the Canaries. They have big expansion plans. MyTravelLite (www.mytravellite.com) From Birmingham to Geneva, Rimini, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Paris. These are just a few of the no-frills airlines operating in the EU at the moment. www.attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines has details of them all. Also worth looking at are www.whichbudget.com, www.skyscanner.net, www.airlinequality.com/Airlines/low_cost.html and the travel section of www.guardian.co.uk. HOW TO GET THE BEST FARES Book as far in advance as you possibly can. Around 10% of seats are sold at the lowest quoted fare. Prices begin to rise as soon as they are sold. If you book at the last minute you could find yourself sitting next to someone who's paid less than a tenth of your fare. When you see a fare that you like book it immediate
ly. The longer you wait, the more expensive it's going to be. Sign up for the email announcements offered by each airline. They will let you know about the latest offers before they are available online. Be flexible. Try to avoid mid-morning and late-afternoon flights if you can, as these are usually the most popular. The cheapest time to fly is midweek. Book over the internet rather than by phone. Easyjet offer a £5 discount on each one-way flight for on-line bookings. Use a debit card like switch to pay for your flights as the charges are a couple of pounds less than for credit cards. HOW NO-FRILLS WORKS Most no-frills airlines are completely ticketless. If you book on-line, you'll be given a reference number. You quote this at check-in and are given your boarding card, which is sometimes handwritten. Even the offices are paperless. Easyjet's operations are 100% IT based and the vast majority of bookings are taken on-line. No-frills airlines negotiate much cheaper landing charges based on their quick turnaround times. A flight from Barcelona to Bristol will take off again for Prague half an hour later. Time is of the essence: the plane is tidied by the flight attendants before you land with rubbish deposited in black bin liners, in-flight magazines are handed out and collected in mid air and there is usually no seat allocation - the first sixty people to check in get to board the plane first, then it's a scramble for the remaining seats. There are no expensive air walk connections between the boarding gate and the aeroplane so you'll have to walk across the tarmac or get a bus out to a far corner of the runway. With a few exceptions, most of the airports served by no-frills operators are secondary ones which are smaller, cheaper and further away from the actual destinations than the main airports. On-board catering is expensive. People are free to bring their own food and
drink but most people seem happy enough to pay £3 for a sandwich once they're on the plane. Not me though! The airlines also make a lot of money from tie-ins with coach and bus operators, travel insurance, hire cars, hotels and just about everything else you can imagine. Lots of no-frills airlines are cashing in on the post 9/11 recession by ordering new aeroplanes at greatly discounted prices. Ryanair have started selling advertising space on the exterior of their planes. Don't expect compensation for delays, lost luggage or cancellations. You might get something but it'll usually be a lot less than you would get with bigger airlines like KLM and British Airways. THINGS TO CONSIDER No-frills airlines are often misleadingly called low-cost airlines. This doesn't mean that the prices are always going to be lower than the big airlines. Unless you're booking a long time in advance you might find that British Airways' fares are just as cheap. Before you book your flights do a background check on the airport you'll be flying into. Your ticket might only cost £20 but you'll be paying a lot more in time and money if you're landing two hours from where you want to be. Most airlines allow you to change your date of travel but you'll usually have to pay around £30 for this plus the difference between the fare you booked and the lowest price that is currently available. You probably won't get any refund on a cancellation unless there are very special circumstances. Look carefully at all the terms and conditions before you book. Don't assume that you'll be covered if your flight is cancelled. Remember that those £1 fares exclude taxes, fees and charges. If a route isn't making money it'll be axed very quickly. There are stories of people buying holiday villas only to find that flights to the local airport are scrapped shortly afte
I don't think many of you will remember my name - I haven't written anything on here since last August - but I've been a member of dooyoo for exactly two years today. I still read every now and again but I stopped writing after I cashed in my first £50 (they do pay) and then never got back into the habit. Recently I've been spending a little bit more time on dooyoo - it's much quieter than it used to be of course, and things are very different from this time last year, so I thought this would be as good a thing to write about as any. Dooyoo's main problem is definitely the lack of communication. It must be very confusing for new members to post opinions and then find that half their capital letters have vanished and a load of question marks have appeared out of thin air. Then when you do start writing you can't find the link to request new suggestions. And even when you do uncover its hiding place it usually takes ages for anything to be added. I know this has put a few people off writing, and I bet it's even worse for people who have just found the site. Why not put an announcement on the front page to let people know what?s happening? I'm sure people would be a lot more understanding about problems on the site if they had some idea what was going on, even if they didn't know when things were likely to get better. Also, what's happened to the search engine? It's terrible, making finding your way around the different categories much more difficult than it should be. Dooyoo's no use to consumers if they can't find what they're looking for. Short opinions are another thing. I haven't really felt like writing a 'proper' opinion for a while, but I often seen things that I could have written 200 or so words on. Short opinions at the moment are a total waste of time - what use are a few sentences to anyone? - so why not scrap them and start again with something that is useful f
or the reader and encourages people to write more often? Make the word limit somewhere between 100 - 200 words, pay nothing for a read but maybe 5 or 10p for every one written. I suppose you could drop the rewards a little after the first month and delete anything that really isn't useful. It would be a good way to involve new writers without them feeling intimidated by all those long opinions and it would build up dooyoo?s database at the same time. And there'd be no more opinions on chocolate bars that list everything written on the packaging just to increase the word count. It's great that the new opinions list now lists the last one hundred ops, but it still doesn't help when the last twenty have been written by the same person. Sometimes churners are just new writers that don't know any better - most people get over-excited when they first join dooyoo, don't they? The problem is that a long list of opinions by the same person puts established members off reading anything and so the new members leave almost as soon as they've arrived. Then again sometimes churners are just a pain in the neck - those with nothing better to do for a few hours than knock other people's opinions off the front page almost as soon as they've been posted. The answer to both these situations is to limit the number of opinions anyone can post in a single day. I know dooyoo needs new submissions but surely something like five opinions a day would be enough for anybody? It can't look very good for the site if someone surfs in to see dozens of single paragraphs by the same person on the front page. The competition for new opinions on electronics and computer games is a very good idea. I hope it won't just be a one-off, why not extend it to every category? Give extra miles to the best first opinion about anything that nobody else has written about in UK & Ireland, Books, Movies, Travel, etc. It doesn't have to be much of a re
ward, say 3500 miles, and it would help to build up the database, which might help to attract new members. Sometimes even the smallest of things can be enough to kick start momentum. I know there are no crowns in Speaker's Corner any more but why is it so hard to find nowadays? I'm sure people would write in that category if it was updated regularly, even without the extra one pound fifty. The opinions mightn't be of any direct use to dooyoo, but they make the site a bit more interesting and indirectly encourage writers who might eventually end up writing about DVDs and other more 'useful' things. Maybe I've been sounding like a bit of a moaner; I don't mean to be. But I think that dooyoo could very easily be much better than it is now with just a little more consideration and a few changes. This is a great site, and it shouldn't be allowed to die without a fight.
Altet International Airport is situated ten kilometres inland from the city of Alicante and is the national and international airport for visitors to and from the Costa Blanca on mainland Spain. Most British tourists arriving at Altet airport will be on route to Benidorm and the airport car park often resembles a coach terminal with an abundance of luxury coaches waiting to make the hours drive north along the coast to the high rise hotels of Benidorm. The airport itself is not one of the largest I have visited with only one terminal and a comparatively small check in lounge for the amount of flights using the airport. There is an information and help desk permanently open in the check in lounge and a second information and help desk is open in the departure lounge at busy times, which is actually most of the day. It is not difficult to find your way around the check in lounge and there are numerous information screens displayed around the lounge. Also in the check in lounge there are ATMs, a bureau de change and a post office, which is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 1.30pm as well as a lost property office, a travel agency, a pharmacy and of course public toilets with baby changing facilities. Once you have checked in you make your way up stairs to the departure lounge where you find a couple of bars and restaurants as well as a fast food outlet. For such a small airport there is a good selection of shops including a newsagents, tobacconists, gift and jewellery shop, a music shop, a cake and confectionary shop, sports shop, shoe shop, CD and video shop as well as three duty free shops. All of the departure gates are in the one departure lounge so you don’t have to worry about hurrying to the gate after getting you duty frees and again there are an abundance of TV screens giving information about flight departures. Most departure gates have the walk way connected to the aeroplane so you only have
a fairly short walk to the plane from the departure lounge. Also in departures there is a VIP lounge with facilities for passengers travelling business class to send and receive faxes, do photocopying and access the Internet as well as public telephones throughout the building. Disabled facilities at the airport include a designated area outside the terminal building for dropping off and collecting disabled passengers and designated parking spaces in the airport car park directly opposite the terminal building. The airport also has lifts, ramps, disabled toilets and wheelchairs are available free of charge on request. There is only one car park at the airport catering for both long and short stay parking although parking fees vary depending on the length of time you stay. The car park is opposite the terminal building and there are ample luggage trolleys in the car park. Public transport to and from the airport is quiet good, a bus runs every thirty minutes to and from Alicante central bus station and the journey time is only about twenty minutes and taxis are readily available outside the terminal building, the journey time by taxi to and from Alicante is approximately fifteen minutes depending on traffic and time of day. There are numerous car hire companies working from the airport, Avis, Hertz, Atesa, Europcar IB, Europa Rent a Car and Sol-Mar Sl all have desks in the arrivals lounge next to the baggage reclaim area. There are no hotels on the airport complex but Alicante Holiday Inn (telephone number 0034 96 515 6185) is only five kilometres away and one hotel I would strongly recommend is the Polamar (telephone 0034 96 541 3183) at Santa Pola, approximately fifteen kilometres south of the airport and less than twenty minutes drive. I have often used Altet airport and have found arrivals reclaim to be very efficient however I have reservations about check in, on one occasion while travelling with my
wife and one of the first parties to check in I was asked if I would like a window seat on the plane, I replied yes and when I walked away I discovered I had a window seat and my wife had an aisle seat, we were also at opposite ends of the plane. Since then we always state we would like seats together. Every time we have travelled from this airport we have heard people complain about not having seats together or being at opposite ends of the plane and on the last occasion the cabin crew on the plane even complained about the amount of passengers who had been split up for no apparent reason. Most people expect to be sitting together if they hand their passports and travel documents over together, unless of course the plane is full, however this does not seem to be the case at Altet airport at times if you do not actually say you want to sit together you might just find your party split all over the plane. On the whole I have always found Altet airport to be clean and tidy, the meals in the restaurant are well cooked and presented, they are also reasonably priced, as are the drinks. For a small airport most people’s needs are well catered for although I have always been fortunate enough not to have any long delays while flying from Alicante. Airport telephone number: From outside of Spain 0034 96 691 9000 or 9100 If phoning from Spain 096 691 9000 0r 9100 Fax number: From outside Spain 0034 96 691 9354 From Spain 096 691 9354 Website: www.aena.es
We recently spent a week at the all-inclusive hotel Jupiter in Alcudia, Majorca. We had seen the hotel advertised many times on the TV Travel Shop and we had never been to Alcudia but had often said we would like to visit that part of the Island so when we saw this holiday advertised as a named late deal at an extremely good price we decided it was too good to miss. The Jupiter is built on a large complex next to two other hotels; the Saturno and the Marte and guests from all three hotels have the use of the facilities of the whole complex. The Jupiter The reception area of the hotel is very large and airy with the usual notice boards telling guests about day trips and evening entertainment, there is a wide sweeping marble staircase in the centre of the reception area and seven lifts, one of the lifts has panoramic views across the surrounding country-side, the sea and the old town of Alcudia. The entrance to the dining room is in reception and there is also a very large open plan lounge bar. Accommodation There are nine floors and four-hundred and sixty-three rooms in the Jupiter and our room was on the first floor, which we were very pleased about because although there are seven lifts they do get very busy as the evening goes on and we found it a lot quicker using the stairs at the end of the evening. Our room was fairly large with two queen size beds, safety deposit box, fitted wardrobe, direct dial telephone and cable TV. The bathroom had a full size bath with over bath shower and unlike most hotels we have stayed in on Majorca the water pressure was extremely high, there was no bidet in our bathroom but there had obviously been one at some time because the fittings were still evident. The balcony from our room was small but adequate and the rail around the balcony looked high enough to ensure the safety of children. We had a couple of chairs and clothes dryer on the balcony. Our towels w
ere changed daily, bed linen was changed twice during our one-week stay and the room had air conditioning. We were pleased with the overall cleanliness of our room. Dining Room and Meals Meals are self-service and the dining room is very large with virtually floor to ceiling windows on two sides and is strictly a no smoking area. The tables are all set with linen table cloths, linen serviettes, water jugs, glasses, cutlery and vase of flowers so there is no hunting for cutlery after you have selected your meal and the waitresses are very quick clearing your table between courses. There was an abundance of high chairs around the dining room and tables varied in size from those for two to large round tables sitting eight people. Although the hotel was fairly full the week we were on holiday there was no real queues in the dining room and there were numerous self-service points. There was a large selection of meals on offer and all of the food looked very appetising. Breakfast consisted of a choice of croissants, pastries, rolls, cold meats, fruit, cereal and a cooked full English, with fruit juices, tea, coffee and hot chocolate although the hot drinks were only available from machines and they never really taste the same to me. Lunch and diner offered a large selection of starters, main course and desserts and there was always both fish, meat, vegetarian and salads available as well as a varied children’s menu. During both lunch and diner two bars were open in the dining room offering soft drinks, red and white wine and beer. The dining room is open from 8.00am to 10.00am for breakfast, 12 noon to 2.00pm for lunch and 6.00pm to 9.30pm for diner and you have the option of eating in either the Jupiter, Saturno or Marte dining rooms; the Marte dining room also serves supper between 10.00pm and midnight, super comprises of salads, pastas and burgers. The Facilities The hotel complex offers fou
r large swimming pools with a section for children in each pool and three separate children’s pools, all are supervised by life guards and there is a large lake with free pedalos and bike skies available for a small charge, the lake does not have a life guard on duty and children are only allowed on the pedalos and bike skies if accompanied by an adult. There is a volleyball court, badminton and tennis courts, five-a-side football pitch, soft ball and basket ball courts, table tennis tables, French bowls, water polo, archery, bikes, crazy golf and golf practice area with equipment and instruction available free of charge although you do have to book a session in advance and leave a five euro refundable deposit against the equipment. During the day there are frequent keep-fit classes and snorkelling classes on offer and there is a rifle shooting range available for adults only as well as a go-kart track with coin operated go-karts and coin operated pool tables. Younger children are catered for in their own adventure playground with sand pit, paddling pool and mini-train. There are children’s clubs running throughout the day offering activities such as pirate adventures, shows and mini-discos. The complex offers numerous different types of areas for relaxing and sunbathing, there are all the pool areas as well as secluded grass areas with fairly high hedges around to give a little privacy and when we were there these areas were mostly used by adults without children. Entertainment As well as the day time entertainment there is also varied evening entertainment, the lounge bar of the Jupiter offered fairly loud music, the bar in the Marte offered a place just to sit and chat in quiet and the bar in the Saturno offered quiet piped music. Between the Saturno and the Marte there is an area with seating and a stage and the evening entertainment here was directed towards families with small children, there w
as a clown, magician and sing along party music with games, this area also has a giant chess set in it. Between the Marte and the Jupiter there is a very large stage with seating area and the evening entertainment here was directed towards adults, it was more along the lines of variety shows, early evening bingo and quizzes. There is also a cinema on the first floor of the Jupiter that showed a different film each night of the week and this was popular with the teenagers. The complex has around eight bars and they were all well staffed so we never had to wait long for drinks. Throughout the day kiosks were open in various locations of the complex offering sandwiches, fruit, ice cream, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, chips and soft drinks so you did not have to go into the dining room for lunch if you preferred to have a snack. There are also spa water fountains on the bars inside the Jupiter, Saturno and Marte so once you have bought a bottle of drinking water you can just keep refilling you bottle. Location Alcudia is set astride a beautiful bay on the north coast of Majorca and boasts eleven kilometres of sandy beaches, the complex housing the Jupiter hotel however is one kilometre inland but there is a free courtesy bus from the hotel to the beach and back and the bus runs every half hour. Around the hotel complex there are a few bars, self-catering apartments and shops but on the whole the area is on the quite side. It is a fifteen minute walk in one direction to the night life, cafes and restaurants in the main beach resort, fifteen minutes walk in another direction to the shops and beach at the Port of Alcudia and a twenty-five minute walk into the old town of Alcudia although the hotel receptionist did show us a short cut through the back of the complex and across a well worn path into the old town, if you take the short cut the walk into the old town is fifteen minutes and brings you out at the beginning of
where the market is held; the path is fairly easy to walk on but would be no good for a family with a pushchair. The complex is right next to the aqua-park and there are also a lot of small lakes with stagnant water in the vicinity, we found that there were an abundance of mosquitoes around the hotel, they were not a problem for us because we never go on holiday without our plug in mosquito mats, spray and tea-tree oil, which all work really well at repelling any biting insects but a lot of the guests at the hotel were being heavily bitten and had to go to the shops to buy insect repellents; there is a shop on the complex but the shops outside the gates offered better value for money. To Sum Up There seemed to be an abundance of entertainment for families and those guests like myself who were there without children could always find somewhere quiet if that’s what we wanted. On the whole I would recommend this hotel to families and those who like to spend their holidays around the hotel, once you have paid the price of the holiday you need not spend another euro if you don’t want to. I would return to the Jupiter again if I saw it as a named late deal but I personally would not book and pay the full brochure price for an all-inclusive holiday because I like exploring the surrounding area and spending most of the day away from the hotel, however we enjoyed our weeks holiday, it was great value for money, had a good entertainment programme with lots of activities to occupy you throughout the day, the food was varied and well cooked and the hotel complex was very clean. We could drink as much as we liked when we liked and did not have to queue more than a couple of minutes for anything, everything you needed for a relaxing, enjoyable week in the sun was available on the complex.
Part of the Trinity Mirror stable of newspapers, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle is the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the North East. Although I don't buy it every day, preferring the South Shields Gazette, I've been reading the Chronicle on and off for most of my adult life, along with another 400,000 people in Northumberland, Durham and Tyne & Wear. Along with The Journal, the Chronicle's morning equivalent, the paper is published every day except Sunday. Copies usually hit the streets of Newcastle in the late morning when the street sellers' cries of "Ronnie Gill" can be heard throughout the city centre. Costing 30p, the paper is reasonable value for money, although as I said earlier it's not something I consider an essential purchase. Local News makes up by far the biggest section of the newspaper, and usually accounts for around a third of the whole newspaper. Single pages are given over to Britain Tonight and World Tonight, which wrap up breaking news stories from outside the region. Other regular features include ten pages of classifieds, Make A Date (a listings guide covering cinema, clubs, concerts and exhibitions), and three pages of TV Listings which are well laid out and pretty thorough, covering the majority of satellite and cable channels as well as the major digital ones. The Opinions pages are not very original with the 'Your Questions Answered' section and letters taking up the majority of the two pages. Likewise, 'The Chronicle Says' editorial column is a little too parochial for my tastes, all knee jerk shouting and conservative indignation and no influence. 'Vent Your Spleen', a small side column printing readers' emails and recorded telephone messages is more entertaining, although some of the people who contribute obviously don't read newspapers as often as they should. One of The Chronicle's strong points is it's Features section. Looking Good
and Parent Talk are in Monday's paper, with Crime Beat, Working Life and The Kron, written by schoolchildren, the next day. Mid-week Motoring on Wednesdays is followed by Chronicle Jobs on Thursdays, when 241,000 people buy the paper. Friday Motoring is more in-depth than Wednesday's section and Life, TV Reviews, travel and health, rounds things off on Saturdays. Like most readers of the paper I usually start at the back with the nine or so pages of Sport. Football, the main reason I buy the paper, takes up at least half of this space with Newcastle United taking the lion's share of coverage. The Chronicle is famous for it's boards announcing big transfer deals, though the paper is wrong more often than not. The best example of this was back in the 1980's when they published a story linking the Brazilian star Socrates with a transfer to St James' Park. Their logic was that Newcastle were in need of a midfielder and Newcastle University had a Philosophy Department that would enable him to keep up his studies. The main Newcastle writer, Alan Oliver, has been in the job for years, although he's not the best with words and he's held in contempt by most supporters. John Gibson, who is a little better, provides comment and general articles and there is also coverage of Non-League football and Sunderland, which aren't really all that different from each other. Other sports covered in The Chronicle include Rugby Union, with the Falcons covered by the excellent Duncan Madsen, Gateshead Thunder in Rugby League, Durham County Cricket Club, local Athletics and the Newcastle Diamonds speedway team. The Athletics and Rugby Union coverage is good but the rest are covered far better in The Journal. Racing is also done better in the morning paper, but there is a two page spread in The Chronicle with the next day's Card and a few tips. Overall I'd give The Chronicle three stars. It's strong on Local News and
is the best source for football gossip but it's not as good as The Journal, and there is too much emphasis on Newcastle itself for those of us who live outside of the city.