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I keep my Egg internet savings account because it offered a good rate of interest however I am constantly irritated by the poor user interface to their software. On several occasions there have been network problems while I have been accessing my account and the only way I can tell whether my instructions have been received is to wait three days to see if they appear in my statement. There is no way of viewing instructions which have been posted but not yet actioned. If there are no network problems they display an acknowledgement but this only states you have done something and does not give details of the transaction. If something goes wrong you have no proof of the transactions you have requested.
The Pathclear gun clains to kill all weeds in two to three weeks and to prevent their regrowth for up to six months. I have found that small weeds die within a few days and large ones are usually dead within two weeks. In fact they don't just die - they turn brown and then completely disappear so you don't even need to remove the dead bodies. I cannot prove they do not return for three months but certainly none have reappeared in the three months since I sprayed my drive so I am confident this claim is also true.
I have been collecting Air Miles for years but I am still amazed at the number of people I meet who are not aware of the savings they can provide. When they were first introduced they gave free British Airways flights however now they can be used on days out in England and on package holidays from selected companies. For a few hundred air miles you can reduce the cost of many package holidays. The actual percentage saving depends on the chosen holiday company but since it applies to the total cost of the holiday rather than the number of people travelling these savings can be substantial. I get miles every time I use my NatWest credit card and find that it is much more efficient to trade in my Sainsburys Reward vouchers for Air Miles rather than using them to reduce my grocery bills.
Are you one of those people who brush their teeth too vigorously, does your toothbrush only last a few weeks and are your teeth sensitive after you have pushed your gums back. If so the answer is to buy an electric toothbrush. Instead of actively brushing your teeth you just hold the toothbrush against them with a very light pressure. Since I bought a Braun plaque remover my toothbrushes last a lot longer and my teeth no longer hurt. As a bonus my teeth also feel a lot cleaner. The only disadvantage is that the toothbrush does not give an indication of how much charge is left and if you misjudge you may find it stopping mid brush. The only annoyance is that since I bought mine most shops seem to be offering substantial discounts though if you do not have one yet you may consider that an advantage.
I live in a hard water area so I always empty the kettle after use in order to avoid the accumulation of scale. This was extremely wasteful of both water and electricity when I used a kettle with a conventional element which had to be covered, even if I only needed a single mug of water. In fact I quite often boiled then threw away as much water as I used. All this changed when I bought a Russell Hobbs Millennium kettle. The flat heating element is hidden in the base of the jug so there is no metal element to get covered with scale. Also, you only need to cover the bottom of the kettle and can boil a single mug of water if required. Finally, it is much faster than a conventional kettle, even when full. The only disadvantage is that it must be filled through the spout which makes it seem very heavy when nearly full.
You cannot pick up a guide book for Verona without being reminded that it is the home town of Romeo and Juliet however the two main Juliet sites are a big disappointment. Juliet's balcony is in a narrow courtyard and her tomb is in an uninspiring Franciscan cloister a little from the centre of the town. Both are on the tourist trail and we were accompanied by organised tours at both meccas. Fortunately there are more interesting and less crowded places to visit. There are several churches whose walls are covered with vivid frescos and of course there is the Roman arena which is worth a visit even outside the opera season if only for the view from its walls. The Piazza del Erbe is bordered by the painted facades of the medieval buildings and has a local market at its centre which is open late into the night. There are enough restaurants, bars and ice-cream parlours to suit all tastes but above all, apart from the few places associated with Juliet, the town is not spoiled by tourism. It is well worth a visit of several days but forget Shakespeare if you want to avoid the crowds.
We were not expecting much of the Gold Museum which was included in our tour of Lima but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating we have visited. The rooms at the entrance contained the normal armour and weapons from the Spanish conquest but we went straight to the pre Spanish exhibits in the basement. There was plenty of gold made into ornaments and embroidered onto cloth however the cases contained many other fascinating and sometimes gruesome objects. There were mummified bodies crouching with their knees bound under their chins, pottery jugs fashioned into human and mythical figures and many examples of intricately woven cloth. Another section had cloaks made from coloured feathers and skulls inlaid with gold and precious stones and showing how the Inca had deliberately deformed their bones. These were all crammed together with no obvious theme so every case brought a new surprise. We had visited several museums in England before we went to Peru but none of them could compare with this badly organised and almost deserted museum. Very few of the places we visited in Peru had particularly impressive museums so if you want a taste of Peruvian life before the Spanish make sure to visit the Gold museum before you leave Lima.
Mexico City has plenty of good restaurants however even gourmets sometimes want a quick lunch. so that they can get on with the site seeing. We found our first VIPS a short distance from the Zocalo. At first were put off by the fact that it was furnished like a Little Chef or Happy Eater but it was well patronised so we thought we would give it a chance. The large menu had pictures of everything on offer so there are no problems if you are uncertain of your Spanish and the choice was much more extensive than in similar establishments in England. Everything in Mexico seemed cheap and this was no exception After our first visit we began to see VIPS restaurants everywhere, in Mexico City and in other large towns. All those we tried offered the same menu with good service and staff willing to tolerate our attempts to speak Spanish while pointing at the menu - a good way to fool yourself that you can speak the language. They cannot complete with the more formal restaurants but VIPS are great when you want a good meal with fast but unrushed service. Don't be put off by their garish appearance
The guide book said that Merida is a good place to buy genuine Panama hats and hammocks. It is impossible to avoid the hammocks - all you have to do is sit outside one of the many cafes and in a few minutes you will be approached by a man carrying bundles of them over his arm. As soon as a hammock salesman has left he will be replaced by a small boy selling packets of chewing gum or individual cigarettes from an open packet. It is slightly more difficult to but a Panama hat - you must enter one of the many shops. We had selected suitable hats and were waiting for our credit card to be authorised when we noticed a glass tank on the counter. This contained several large black beetles resting on pieces of bark but what caught the attention was the colourful glass beads fastened to their backs. These living jewels are very popular amongst the local women who fasten them to their clothes with thin gold chains. When they return home they place them in a box with a piece of rotten wood and they live for several weeks.
There are three well known Mayan sites within easy reach of the holiday resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen - Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza. Tulum is the nearest but unfortunately this means it is the most commercialised. In order to reach the entrance from the car park you must walk past rows of brash tourist shops and there was even a troupe dressed as ancient Maya banging a drum and chanting in front of an open fire. The temples were built in the Early Post Classical Period (about 900 to 1200) at a time when the Maya seem to have lost many of the skills they used in their earlier sites. There are no fine carvings or skilfully constructed arches and if it were not for the magnificent natural site on the top of a cliff overlooking the deep blue waters of the Carribean they would not merit a visit. A little further inland you come to Coba. The entrance is in a small village on the shores of a beautiful lake and surrounded by jungle where you can see numerous birds and unfamiliar plants. The temples flourished around 600AD and there are some interesting pyramids but the main attraction is the opportunity to see an archaeological site before it has been completely restored and commercialised. You can wander on narrow paths through the jungle where you come across carved stellae and mounds of stones marking the position of as yet unexcavated buildings. There is a small ball court and some pyramids where you can see the way in which new temples were built over older ones. An interesting rather than a spectacular site but worth the visit. The final site, Chichen Itza, is a must. It is visited by hordes of tourists but is so large that you have plenty of room to walk around. Many of the buildings have been skilfully restored and when I visited earlier this year you were still allowed to climb to the top of the main pyramid - something it is becoming more difficult to do at other sites. Apart from the 25 metre high pyramid it has one of the la
rgest ball courts in the Yucatan with its famous friezes of players being beheaded, temples and platforms covered with spectacular carvings and a large cenote or sacred pool. If you are only able to make a single day trip from the coastal resorts this is the one to choose.
Kathmandu is the largest and most urban of three villages situated close together in the Kathmandu valley. The first impression is of a rather busy, modern town however once you reach the heart of the old town you are in a different world with carved wooden buildings, temples and narrow streets. If it is the first village you visit you will find it charming however if you leave it until the end you may find it disappointing in comparison with the others. A short distance away is the town of Patan. The centre of this village is much larger than Kathmandu and contains many more spectacular wooden buildings and more open spaces. You can reach the pedestrianised centre without walking through the modern buildings you find in the outskirts of Kathmandu and if you explore the roads which radiate from the central squares you will find you are the only tourist exploring ancient buildings and temples whereas away from the centre of Kathmandu you find traffic and modern life. The final and most spectacular village is Bhaktapur. You approach the centre along a narrow street lined with fascinating shops catering for the local inhabitants rather than for tourists then suddenly you pass through the village gate and enter an area of open plazas with temples and shrines and lined with carved wooden buildings. Every wall has a least one pale dog lying asleep in its shadow and giving an indication of the slow pace of life. In the streets off these squares you can see the local inhabitants going about their daily chores much as they would have done when their homes were constructed over three hundred years ago. It is certainly the most medieval and least modernised and tourist oriented of the three villages in the valley and possibly the most charming I have visited. You can visit all three villages in a couple of days but make sure you see Kathmandu first, then Patan and save the most spectacular, Bhaktapur, until last.
The first chateau we visited on our trip to the Loire valley was Usse. This looked as though it had just escaped from Disneyland with its conical white towers topped with sloping tiled roofs. There is even a waxwork tableaux of the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty in one of the chambers. Unfortunately it is one of the many chateau on the Loire which can only be visited as part of a guided tour so we had to endure endless rooms of porcelain and armour as our guide gave us lengthy descriptions of what we were seeing. After Usse the chateau at Villandry, a little further along the river, looks a bit ordinary. The main chateau consists of a rectangular building set in a moat but from its upper rooms you get a good view of its famous formal gardens. These consist of a series of flower beds in geometric patters outlined with low clipped yew and box hedges. Each bed contained similar plants so that from above the garden looked like a series of intricate geometric shapes each of a single colour. Even the kitchen garden followed this pattern with green and blue sections with cabbages contrasting with brighter sections planted with pumpkins and squashes. Not to be missed even if you do not normally visit gardens. The third chateau we visited was Langeais which lies almost midway between Usse and Villandry. Unlike the others this is set in the middle of a small town whose houses reached right up to its walls. From the outside it looks more like a fortress than a house with high crenellated walls, huge round towers and a main entrance approached by a drawbridge over a deep moat. This leads to a courtyard and a small formal garden from where it is much less formidable - just like a large manor house. Inside the rooms were furnished with early Renaissance furniture and like many other other chateau we visited there were numerous Flemish tapestries. The windows gave spectacular views over the pointed roofs of the town and over the fields to the Loire. Langeais is built to a human scale and its rooms are well furnished to give a good impression of how wealthy people lived during the 15 century. Again, not to be missed.
I have probably been checked over by pickpockets throughout the world but the only place where they have been really obvious is in the Roman underground. Almost every platform has its group of women carrying babies and dressed like characature gypsies in large floral skirts with matching headscarves chatting while they wait for the next train. When the train arrives however they all head for separate carriages. You can observe them sizing up their chances with each tourist before moving down the carriage to the next. Although I did not actually catch any in the act I did experience a couple of instances in a five day holiday when an irate Italian started shouting and forcibly pushing one of these women from the train at the next stop. You are just as safe walking the streets. The pickpockets travel in groups and can be recognised from a distance by the sheets of cardboard they thrust towards you to conceal what their hands are up to out of sight. In this instance you must overcome your English reserve and push the cardboard aside if you do not want to lose your money. You have been warned!