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At age four and five respectively, my two youngest children are just beginning to show an interest in technology and electronic gadgets. I had been reluctantly allowing them to play with some of the gaming apps on both my iPod and iPad under supervision but these devises are not designed to be used by children and are far too expensive to replace if broken. I don't believe children should spend their spare time playing electronic games but I do appreciate technology has a greater role in their lives than mine when I was their age and if they must use electronic toys then they should at least have an education value. After much research, Hubby and I decided to buy the LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer, an electronic child friendly tablet suitable for children aged between four and nine years old. We brought ours from Argos for £79.99 which doesn't include any accessories such as a carry case or headphones. ~~~ What Is The LeapPad ~~~ The LeapPad is a multi functional, portable device and much more than just a handheld gamer. It offers 2GB memory and combines a stills camera, video recorder, microphone, digital reading library, art studio, diary, interactive dictionary and progress chart all roiled into one. It's also a progress chart that records your childs learning achievements within the various apps although this is an element of the device that I have yet to fully explore. The LeapPad looks like a cross between between an iPad and iPod. The design of which is basic but functional. Rather than being slim, sleek and fragile it's chunky and child friendly and works in much the same way as a standard tablet. I was particularly impressed when we removed the LeapPad from the packaging because it was immediately clear it would be incredibly durable. The entire device is made from thick, toughened plastic and has a gentle curve towards the bottom to provide a firm but comfortable grip which is essential as some games are motion activated. To date it's managed to withstand the usual abuse children inflict on toys. Even the touch screen is toughened plastic so there's no need to worry the device will be too delicate to cope with rough handling. The menu and applications are navigated and controlled using either a stylus (two of which are included) or by finger tapping and dragging across the screen whilst others can be controlled using the the round toggle button at the front of the unit. Powered by either four AA batteries (you will need plenty of them) or a 9v power cable (neither of which are included when purchased) the device itself is smaller than a standard tablet measuring just 2.4 x 13 x 17.9cm. Because the dimensions are quite chunky it's perfect for little hands. The touch screen measures 14 x 18cm and any reservations we initially had that it would be too small to adequately display text was short lived. All writing is clearly visible meaning there is no need to strain when reading. The LeapPad comes with pre installed software but to really get the most from the device it needs to be registered and synced to Leapfrog Connect which is basically a media centre that doubles as both an online shop for the downloadable apps and storage center to back up all the data stored on the device. Registering an account is a simple procedure of connecting the LeapPad to a laptop/pc via the USB cable and following the on screen instructions. Here some of the software will be downloaded to the device and at any time the LeapPad can be reconnected to either purchase new apps, exchange rewards or back up data. It's all password controlled and because the device has no built in wi-fi children will not (unless you allow) be able to access the account online. ~~~ A Parents Perspective ~~~ The LeapPad's interface is incredibly child friendly, using bold, bright colours, cartoon graphics and poppy sound effects all of which are appealing and engaging to a small child. The only downside to the audio elements of the LeapPad is the American accent which often confuses my children. Likewise some of the terminology is American and not relevant to us Brits. However, I fail to see how any of this will capture the imagination of a nine year old. Personally, I think older children may find this approach a little immature and I don't imagine many nine year olds being interested in a device of this nature. All the content we have downloaded offer children to develop a range of leaning skills including fine motor, language and cognitive and although each game has it's own skills target all require an element of discipline and concentration from the child. Some games are memory based whilst others require more hand to eye co-ordination and some are more motivational offering rewards that can be exchanged for treats to be used in Pet Pad. I think this is a great way for children to learn as all the games and eBooks have a degree of personal interaction with the child and offer an element of fun, so most children won't even realise they're learning whilst playing. Whilst I was impressed with visual animation I find myself less impressed with some of the technology. For example, the camera takes pictures at 640x480 and without bright, natural day light the pictures are pretty grainy and dark and it's much the same story with the video which records for a limited time at 320x240. Again the footage is murky and dark and although I appreciate a children don't need to capture high resolution images, I do think they deserve better than this. I also think that although the touch screen is quite intuitive, at times it's response can be slow. It's not enough to impede on my children's fun with the LeapPad but when a child has to tap the screen several times just to be able to draw a line it can become tedious. It doesn't seem to bother my children apart from when there in the middle of a timed game. ~~~ A Childs Perspective ~~~ I found I didn't need to intervene too much to set up my children's accounts and assist them with navigating the menus. Both my children opted to plunge feet first, finding their own way around the menu using trial and error. The great thing about this device is you can allow children loose reins safe in the knowledge that any settings they alter can be easily rectified. Both my children were happy to adopt this method because it allowed them to familiarise themselves with the LeapPad in their own time as well as work out the best ways to control it. The first thing both my children wanted to do was personalise their own accounts by taking photos and creating their own backgrounds and wallpapers. Their diaries allow them to input their own data, just simple things like their birthday, things they like, the mood their in etc. This section is a bit like a scrap book and is a great way for them too really put their own stamp on their accounts which gives them a sense of ownership. Certainly from my perspective, personalising their own accounts seems to add an element of healthy competition as both my children want to impress both me and hubby with the best drawings, writing, pictures etc and it's much the same with the games as each one wants to complete levels first or with highest scores. My daughter particularly enjoys the language apps and since I have been teaching her basic Spanish since she first started learning to talk, the Spanish learning app has proved very useful. I have noticed an improvement in both her pronunciation and understanding of the language. Spanish, like most of the word apps teaches children visually but also with phonics, a method she is already familiar with from school so I find she picks things up very quickly. She is certainly more confident and motivated and this method of teaching has also been helpful to my son who is just beginng to read and write. Now my son is beginning to write his own name, something he has been learning at nursery, he finds the LeapPad a far more interesting concept than plain old pen and paper. The LeapPad offers exercises that help him utilise the stylus in the same way he would a pen, visually demonstrating how to co-ordinate the stylus to write individual letters whilst the audio encourages his efforts. At times I feel my role is a temporarily redundant however, I can see why the cute little characters offer him a greater interest. ~~~ Apps And Software ~~~ The LeapPad comes with pre installed software including an art studio and Pet Pad, an interactive pet similar to a Tamagotchi but without purchasing additional apps the LeapPad has limited use. Thankfully, if you do own cartridges for other Leapfrog devices such as the Leapster they are compatible with this LeapPad otherwise you need to download apps through the app centre. LeapFrog boast more than one hundred apps can be found online consisting of eBooks, games and language courses. Each app has it's own targeted age range so there is plenty of variation to suit pre schoolers and older children and the apps have an educational value. Some to familiarise with letters, colours, shapes and numbers whilst others are more game based for co-ordination and memory. A disappointing aspect of the LeapPad is the ongoing expense of the apps. Basic apps start at £5.00 which I think is reasonable whilst others are more expensive at £10.00 - £15.00. In our experience the basic and cheaper apps have limited use. I was impressed with the quality of the apps although some of the cheaper ones do lack content. The content of the higher priced apps is extensive and they provide a valuable learning experience but I can't get my head around the prices. after all, I can buy educational games from Apple's app store that offer fantastic graphics, sounds and longevity of play for just 69pence and download eBooks for my kindle substantially cheaper than LeapFrog's offerings. For anyone looking for free games it is worth occasionally doing a Google search for free codes which can be submitted at the online store and downloaded directly to the LeapPad. Back in January I downloaded the following two apps. 5813 1140 1518 1413 (The book of super awesome stuff) and 5810 0790 4610 4973 (alphabet soup game). I'm not sure if either code is still valid but they are definitely worth a try, particularly the alphabet soup word game. ~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~ To date, I don't think we've utilised the LeapPad to it's full potential as there are so many elements to be explored and certainly for the money it's content is extensive. Both my children enjoy the LeapPad immensely but without the option of new apps they do lose interest quickly, particularly when they have fully completed a task or game. So far we have spent an additional £60 in apps (2 x £15 and 6 x £5) which I think is horrendous, especially considering apps have only been purchased as a reward. From a financial aspect, I'm disappointed at the amount of money that needs to be spent after the initial purchase of the device. I do feel, impressive as the apps are they are too expensive and unless you are prepared to buy the apps, a child is not going to use the LeapPad to it's full potential and will quickly become bored. It's a catch twenty two situation. I should also point out that the LeapPad consumes battery power like it's going out of fashion. We invested in good quality rechargable batteries and we still only get four hours of continual play if we are lucky. The only other option is to power from mains electric which means the LeapPad is no longer portable. It's annoying that the LeapPad can't be recharged any other way. It's another example of the ongoing expense of this device. I do think overall the LeapPad is worth the money but I do wonder if the manufactures have been a little optimistic with their age range. I certainly can't see either of my children being interested in the device when they are nine but overall the LeapPad has been a hit with the children and has been used consistently so the use has, to a certain degree justified the money we spent. I think the LeapPad is a great little tablet for children and if a few minor adjustments to the software I would easily award it five stars. As it stands the LeapPad receives four stars from me.
My hubby always teases me for being vertically challenged. At a meager 5'1 and edging more and more towards the cuddlier size of life I often struggle to find dresses that don't trail on the floor or completely swamp my frame. Maxi dresses are usually a no no because I find them far too long and if the waist area is excessively gathered it draws more attention to my middle, making me look far bigger than I am. Many stores offer a selection of dresses in varying lengths however, sometimes even the shorter options are too long. One store that always caters for my height and size perfectly is good old Marks and Sparks. The Per Una Kalidoscope Print Maxi Jersey dress is available online from marksandspencers.com (product code: T625130G) and in selected stores. I found mine wasn't available in my high street branch but was in a larger store at my nearest retail park. The dress is available in eight sizes (eight to twenty two), each in either a long or standard length. This dress retails at £49.50, which is a universal price, regardless of the size you opt for. One thing I do love about Marks and Sparks is they don't penalsie the customer by increasing the price when buying larger sizes like other stores often do. ~~~ The Dress ~~~ I opted for a standard length size sixteen which, although long on myself doesn't trail on the floor, grazing just above my toes (a couple of cm's from the floor). To offer an idea of the expected length, the model on the website (as seen in Dooyoo's picture) is 5'8.5 and wearing a size ten (presumably in a longer length). The dress has clearly been designed to be worn just above ankle height but despite mine being several inches longer it still looks very elegant and not at all silly. The dress is predominantly a beautiful, deep shade of purple, my favourite colour and reason I was attracted to it in the first place. A circular pattern of small blocks of colour that include deep pinks, oranges, reds and gray add interest and depth without being over the top or weighty. I think the colours are beautiful, complimenting each other perfectly. The print and indeed colours are very bold but not garish. There are no fussy embellishments, bows or beading (other than a thin strap that ties around the back) that could weigh the dress down or detract from the pattern. Made with 95% viscose and 5% elastine, with a 100% polyester lining, the dress is very light weight and perfect for wearing in hot weather as it's non clingy. The dress is an empire line with material gathered just above the waistline and directly below the bust with the fabric flaring out ever so slightly towards the hem. I find this particularly flattering as it enhances my natural hourglass shape whilst keeping my silhouette in proportion. It's definitely an easy style to wear that I think will suit most body shapes. Tall and slender wearers will look svelte and elegant whilst rounder figures will look curvy and feminine, Certainly the natural curves of my waist and hips are clearly viable but the flowing fabric, coupled with the pattern draw attention away from my biggest bone of contention, my jelly belly but also my wide hips. It's an effective way of camouflaging wobbly bits as the fabric isn't so loose that it's smothers my frame by being baggy, making me appear bigger but floaty enough that it doesn't cling and accentuate them either. Because the loose nature of the fabric is very forgiving, I think that someone who is pregnant, certainly in the early stages or perhaps later if they have a small bump could get away with wearing this dress quite comfortably. It would certainly be more economical than buying a maternity dress with limited wear as you could continue to wear this dress after the birth and before the baby weight has gone. I wish I could have found a dress like this when I was pregnant, particularly as my due day was in August! The dress covers the back completely but has a deep, plunging V-neck at the front, showing just enough cleavage to be tasteful. I think this makes the dress suitable for a wide age group as the print and style can easily appeal to younger wearers whilst older ones won't feel over exposed. The material fits snugly around the bust line and although it accentuates the area it doesn't make me look top heavy in any way, just shapely. There's no built in support around the bust but because the material under the arms is quite high and the shoulder straps deep, the dress adequately conceals undergarments. The material gathered under the bust line is also elasticated which allows for extra movement making the dress extremely comfortable to wear. ~~~ Accessorise ~~~ The overall style of this dress is distinctly summery. Purples, pinks, oranges and yellows are all colours synonymous with summer however, I think, the deeper shades could also lend themselves to the cooler months too. The dress could easily be complimented by a light or darker coloured waist length jacket and thanks to the lining no one would ever see a pair of tights underneath. I guess the dress would predominantly be classed as casual wear. Taking full advantage of our recent hot weather, I've been wearing the dress with a flat pair of sandals as it's perfectly practical for day to day wear. The dress can easily be transformed into smart evening wear using select accessories. Last weekend I wore the dress to a friends birthday party with an accompanying pair of high heels and it looked very elegant. With my couple of inches extra height, not only was I taller but I also looked slimmer. I also wore a chunky purple bracelet, also from Marks and Sparks which added that extra finishing touch, transforming the dress into a pretty, summer gown. One thing that Marks and Sparks always seem to have is a range of jewelry that can be matched to most of their outfits for a reasonable price so if you are looking for accessories for this dress it's always worth checking in store for the extras first. ~~~ After Care ~~~ The dress should be machine washed at 40 degrees or lower. I wash clothes at 30 and this dress hair faired very well. The first wash did not cause colour run and subsequent washes have not seen the colours fade or bleed and to date (five weeks or thereabouts) the fabric to bobble ether. It does however, come out of the washing machine quite damp despite a high spin cycle. Even hung on the line in the sunshine it takes an age to dry. On the upside, washed, it possess minimal creases. I hang mine on a hanger over a doorway where most of the creases drop out enough that I could probably get away with wearing it without ironing, although I have ironed it on a very cool setting. The material also holds the scent of fabric conditioner very well keeping the dress smelling fresh. ~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~ I loved this dress from the first moment I saw it in store and was so pleased when I tried it on and it actually fit me perfectly. Although the pattern is somewhat masculine, the colours and style are very feminine and overall the dress is incredibly flattering to my figure and my pale skin tone. For a few pence shy of £40.00, the dress is excellent value for money and very affordable. I certainly can't fault it any way as the stitching and indeed material are of a very high quality, exactly what I expect from Marks and Sparks. It's not often you can find an outfit that will suit all heights, builds and ages yet this dress seems to be universal, a good all rounder. It's practical and comfortable as well as being smart and casual. It would be perfect for wearing to the beach as much as a summer wedding or other event but it's also smart enough for the office too, providing you have no dress code. For anyone wanting to place an order online, the picture depicted at marksandspencers.com is very accurate. I can ensure that there are no differences in colour between the online picture and my actual dress. Incidentally, 51 reviews on the website have rated this an average of 5 stars and rightly so. I applaud Marks and Sparks for this dress, it's one of my best fashion buys in a long time and I can highly recommend it. My maxi dress scores maxi points (sorry!). Five stars from me.
If I told you there was a cosmetic so versatile it could single handedly reduce shine, minimise the appearance of pores and fine lines and act as a makeup base and finishing powder you'd probably not believe me. Yet Bare Minerals, Mineral Veil can do all the mentioned with relative ease. ~~~ What Is Mineral Veil ~~~ Mineral Veil is quite different from any other makeup products I've used. It's a stand alone cosmetic that doesn't truly fit in any one particular cosmetic category. The only product I can think of to compare it to would be a traditional finishing powder although strictly speaking it isn't one. Mineral Veil, like all Bare Minerals products is made using a blend of organic extracts, finely ground to a delicate, ultra fine powder. This makes the product incredibly light weight and very easy to apply. Predominantly it's used over mineral foundation and/or concealer to finish the makeup, just like a finishing powder. What I've found different about Mineral Veil however, is unlike finishing powder it still allows that dewy, natural glow of my foundation to show without creating a powdery, matt finish. It sets my makeup, preventing the minerals from smudging, softening the overall look by providing a natural, sheer finish that minimises the appearance of my open pores. One thing I really like about this product is it's not skin type, tone or age bias. Mineral Veil glides across the skin, setting on top of my mineral foundation and providing I don't go over the top during application it won't settle into or accentuate fine lines which is how it gives the appearance of smoother skin and why it's suitable for anyone of any age. For anyone with a clearer complexion it can be worn directly on bare skin where it provides a shine free complexion by absorbing oils without giving the appearance of wearing makeup. Traditional Mineral Veil is translucent so will provide no coverage for blemishes but will gently blanket the skin, creating a veil that shields and protects the skin from the elements. There are tinted versions available although Personally, I prefer the translucent because I have fair skin and any colour I achieve through my mineral makeup is enough without adding more with the veil. Tinted Mineral Veil is a good alternative however, if you want to add a hint of colour to bare skin and don't want to wear foundation. ~~~ Oh So Natural?...Maybe Not ~~~ The Bare Minerals bandwagon has been very busy promoting their minerals as being a natural alternative to liquid makeup that generally contains chemicals such as alcohol, talc, synthetic fragrances, pigmentation's or fillers. All ingredients that can aggravate and dry sensitive skin and block pores which cause breakouts. For a user with sensitive skin, like myself, this type of makeup is a God send. Like other Bare Minerals products, Mineral Veil is also derived from a blend of organic extracts with an option to purchase the translucent version with SPF 25. Now, I couldn't be certain but I have been told Mineral Veil contains Methylparaben used as a preservative thanks to it's antibacterial and antifungal properties. Many argue this is an unnecessary addition to cosmetics that has the potential to irritate skin. Personally, I've never experienced any irritation using Mineral Veil despite having sensitive skin. In fact I've found Mineral Veil to be very gentle when brushed over dry patches and spots. I've checked at BareMinerals.co.uk and Methylparaben is not a listed ingredient so for anyone looking for a paraben free cosmetic, I would advise you seek advice before committing to buy this product, just incase my source is correct. ~~~ Applying Mineral Veil ~~~ Applying Mineral Veil is simple using the recommended swirl, tap and buff technique. It's essential you use Mineral Veil sparingly as too much will leave the skin with a pale, white appearance and iridescent sheen that's not very flattering and looks unnatural. By simply emptying a small amount of the minerals into the container lid (enough to cover a five pence piece is enough for full face cover), swirling the brush (I use my Bare Minerals Kabuki) to collect the product and tapping off any excess before applying, the preparation is much quicker than with a standard powder. Because I'm using a brush to apply the product, I have a greater control over how much of the product I'm using and how it's dispersed over my skin than if I was using a face puff. Mineral Veil is so versatile it can be used under or over foundation and/or concealer. I've found Mineral Veil to be exceptionally good at controlling oil secretion and as such, I usually dust a small amount across my t-zone, the area I'm most prone to an oil breakout before I apply my foundation really as an extra precaution. On warmer days, this is particularly useful as it really helps to prevent my makeup from smudging when I'm hot, prolonging the life of my makeup and the need to continually re-touch throughout the day. Used in the same way as a finishing powder, Mineral Veil glides gently onto my skin. Dusting over my mineral foundation using circular buffing motions doesn't cause the foundation to shift and it allows the softer tones of the foundation to subtlety show through without muting the colour. The minerals are velvety soft with a very creamy texture that lend beautifully to a gentle, silky application. As Mineral Veil settles on my skin it's not heavy enough to thickly coat my skin like a liquid cream cosmetic nor powdery enough to look cakey. It leaves my skin with a subtle sheen that catches the light rather than creating a dull finish. The finished look is luminous and although Mineral Veil doesn't physically reduce the size of my pores the light reflection the veil creates gives the allusion that they aren't there. The product is so versatile because if I need to apply a little extra foundation throughout the day I can buff it directly on top of the veil without creating a cloggy, powdery finish. This is in contrast to a traditional powder where I would have to wash off my makeup, re-apply and then again finish with powder. I also use mineral veil to tone down my Bare Minerals warmth and blusher if I've applied too generously. By buffing the Mineral Veil over the area it neutralises and dulls the red colouring without the need to start my makeup again. Likewise I will apply my brow pencil or powder over my foundation but under Mineral Veil which protects it from shifting. The only area I don't find it particularly useful is on my eyelids. When I wear eyeshadow over Mineral Veil it tends to sink into the creases of my eyelids quite quickly and this is the only tiny niggle I have with the product. ~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~ I love my mineral makeup and since using a Bare Minerals starter kit almost three years ago, I've never felt the need to return to traditional liquid cosmetics. Without a doubt the most versatile product I use is Mineral Veil. It's a hard working little product that controls shine, reduces oil secretion, sets my foundation and concealer, prevents smudging and minimises the appearance of enlarged pores and doesn't settle over time into my fine lines. It's not necessary to apply the Veil after my foundation but it's worth the extra couple of minutes to apply it as it really does soften the look of the makeup. Bare Minerals claim it will provide a flawless finish to mineral makeup and whilst my skin isn't perfect there is a notable difference in the appearance of my skin when I'm wearing the veil. The product is very light weight to wear, allowing my skin to breathe and is perfect, if I want to wear make up during the warmer weather (which I usually opt to do to some degree). Using Mineral Veil means I don't need to purchase cosmetic blotting sheets to control shine as I can just dust the veil over my face to achieve the same oil controlling effect without the fear of a cakey mineral build up. Mineral Veil doesn't prevent oil secretion and shine indefinitely but it does work hard to control it. I can usually get four to five hours wear, even on hotter days before I feel the need to re-apply Mineral Veil. I love this product. Five stars! ~~~ Availability And Longevity ~~~ Mineral Veil can be sourced from most department stores and online at BareMinerals.co.uk where a 9g container will cost £20.00, excluding £2.99 postage and packaging. Mine are sourced from a top seller on EBay where I pay £16.95 including postage. Please be careful if you are buying from other online stockists as there are counterfeits, most being sold around £10-£12 including postage. Personally I would avoid any product being sold for less than around £15, obviously, if you have concerns about the authenticity of a product just source from an official Bare Minerals stockist. Like all the products in the Bare Minerals range, prices, at first seem steep. One 9g container, used on average of three times a day (once immediately after I've applied my makeup and twice to retouch during the day) provides me a good six months service. That is the rough equivalent of 8pence per day which I think is excellent value for money.
Apart from a daily caffeine fix two to three times a day it's rare I drink anything other than plain old water. Problem is, in Wiltshire the water is anything but plain. I live in a notorious hard water area that quickly scums and scales anything it comes in contact with. Chalky deposits and slightly cloudy water are a familiar sight that neither look or smell appealing. The water isn't particularly pleasant to drink either often having a slight chlorine aftertaste. After just two years, despite religiously descaling my kettle on a monthly basis it finally succumbed to the detrimental effects of lime scale and hard water deposits. When I brought my Morphy Richards Accent kettle as a replacement I was determined not to let it suffer the same misery as its predecessor and decided to invest in a water filter, not just to prolong my kettles life but provide purer tasting water. ~~~ Price And Availability ~~~ There are dozens of filter systems available, Brita, being a brand I am most familiar with. I opted for the Brita Aluna 2.4 litre which requires Maxtra filter cartridges, one of which is supplied with the system when purchased. The Aluna currently retails at Tesco for £12.80, apparently a saving of £3.20 from its usual selling price of £16.00 although I'm certain I only paid around the £13.00 mark some five months ago. It's widely available in most stores (high street and online). Prices I have seen vary greatly from £17.00 at my local Lloyds chemist to a more reasonable £9.99 at Argos. Even at the higher retail, I think it would still be a sound investment however, I see no reason why anyone need pay more, so I would advise to shop around and obtain at the best possible price. ~~~ The Aluna Filter System ~~~~ The Aluna is available in two sizes. The 2.4 litre or a slightly larger Aluna XL. It's worth noting the total litre capacity is for the main jug and only without the inclusion of the filter chamber. Once the filter chamber is positioned the actual volume of filtered water is reduced to just 1.4 litres which, in honesty is too small to cope with the demands of my family of five as the filtered water is used in cooking as well as drinking. When I brought the Aluna, I didn't take this loss of volume into consideration, in hindsight a larger model would be more appropriate. To save spending every spare moment filling the jug, I transfer the filtered water into a 2 litre empty cola bottle which I then store in the fridge. Three main components make the Aluna system. The main jug, a water chamber that slots into the jug, housing the filter cartridge and the lid. Each of the three parts are made from durable plastic and with the exception of the lid are dishwasher safe. Our Aluna is at the mercy of my small children who happily help themselves to water directly from the jug before bashing down onto a work top. In five months it has endured the usual abuse associated with a heavily used appliance, including once being dropped on the floor. To date it shows no sign of wear and tear and never even cracked after it's fall onto the floor tiles. The Aluna is very compact with a slim design measuring approximately 27cm high x 26cm wide and 11cm deep. The jug can fit snugly on a fridge shelf, the large, chunky handle making it easier to remove from deeper shelves as well as offering a sturdy grip when pouring although the jug only weighs around 1.5kg when full, so isn't awkward in any way to lift. Setting up to use was an absolute doddle. Only a couple of minutes of my life were wasted slotting the water chamber into the jug, unwrapping the filter cartridge and fully immersing it into cold water to remove any air bubbles before placing it into the filter chamber where it simply clicks into place. The memo indictor (should you bother to use) needs to be pressed for a couple of seconds to set the counter to 100% and away you go. Just remove the lid, fill the water chamber with cold water and in under two minutes, fresh, filtered water is ready to be used. ~~~ The Filtered Water ~~~ Obviously the filter will make a difference to any tap water. How noticeably different an individual will find the filtered water will vary greatly region to region. I've noticed a dramatic difference because our water is heavily tainted. Aside from the taste, smell and appearance it's reassuring the water I now drink has a multitude of otherwise undetectable toxins and byproducts collected from the water pipes removed. It's my understanding any minerals found in tap water remain when the water is filtered and so therefor is a healthier option too. So what does the filtered water taste like? Not much, pretty plain but then that's the idea. I certainly didn't expect to notice such a difference and the little Aluna has even managed to convert my cynical hubby who was convinced my purchase would prove a waste of money! Firstly, the water isn't cloudy. At times our tap water is pretty hazy and unappetising, often accompanied by a chalky sediment that either sinks to the bottom of a glass or just floats around. The filtered water is crystal clear with no visible signs of residue or deposits. The chlorine smell that can often be detected in our water is gone, therefor so is the slight aftertaste I associate with it. Because the water tastes of absolutely nothing it has made a noticeable difference in the taste of the tea and coffee I drink. I drink my Earl Grey tea, very weak without milk. Previously it would have a dense scum that would cling to the mug. Obviously the natural tannins in the tea still create this but since using the filter the scum has been dramatically reduced. Because Earl Grey has quite a distinctive flavour, I immediately noticed a taste change when I first tried with the filtered water. The change is subtle yet enough to make a positive impact on the flavour of drinks. It's much the same story with other drinks as the filtered water allows you to really appreciate the taste the actual drink. It's really not until I made the comparison between tap and filtered that I really accepted just how bad tasting our water is and what a difference the filter has made to the taste and quality of our water. ~~~ Filter Cartridge Longevity ~~~ The longevity of an individual cartridge seems to be determined by how often the filter system is used and (I assume) the quantity of impurities removed. With regular use, it becomes apparent when a cartridge needs replacing, which is usually as soon as the water no longer tastes clean, crisp and fresh and before the first signs of limescale develop in my kettle. I estimate my Aluna is refilled approximately six to eight times each day and I replace the cartridge every three weeks, four at a stretch. Brita do advise a cartridge be replaced every four weeks or 100 litres of water. The Aluna offers an electronic memo, located on the lid, Starting at 100%, the indicator will drop 25% each week regardless of whether the system has been used or not. Personally I find it pretty useless as it's not a true indication of the remaining life expectancy of a cartridge and mine usually need replacing a week before the indicator reaches zero. It only seems to be useful if your water quality isn't seriously impaired and your likely to receive a full four weeks of filtered water or you just can't remember when your cartridge was installed. ~~~ Replacement Filter Cartridges ~~~ Replacing the cartridge for the Aluna is an ongoing expense. Cartridges can be purchased individually or in multi packs which are obviously more cost effective. I've found the cheapest cartridges online at Amazon where I paid £47.00 including delivery for a pack of twelve. That makes each cartridge just £3.92, far better value than other stores although prices at my local Tesco are pretty competitive as well, working out to a pound or so dearer. It's definitely prudent to window shop before you purchase. If you can buy in bulk as boxes of multiple cartridges don't consume a great deal of space at all and offer the greatest savings. Apart from the jug, water chamber and lid all being recyclable the cartridges are too. Our council won't dispose of them but plenty of nearby shops do free of charge. A list of stores that recycle the cartridges can be found on Brita's website. I would award them an extra star just for being environmentally responsible when it would be so easy to just throw them away. The only downside is if you don't or can't visit a store each month and save them to recycle less frequently, they do get very mouldy and smelly quite quickly. ~~~ Overall ~~~ I can't really fault the Aluna in any way at all. The jug and filter system are competitively priced and do exactly what Brita promises. It's easy and convenient to set up and use. Quick to filter water which provides a noticeable cleaner, clearer, fresher taste. Despite the price of the cartridges, I find them more economical than buying bottled water, saving time and money at the checkout and contributing less wastage into the environment. Would I go back to drinking unfiltered tap water? In one word, nope! The level of filtration provides s far superior water than anything I can hope to receive through a tap and the quality of the water easily rivals anything I can get in a bottle . Although there is an ongoing cost with regards to the filter cartridges, it's still considerably lower than what I was spending on bottled water. The little Aluna gets a big five stars from me.
An artist is only as good as the tools they use, or so I've heard. Despite wearing makeup since my teens (I'm now in my thirties) it's only been in the last five or so years I've bothered to invest in quality makeup brushes. It seemed logical if I was prepared to pay a premium for the cosmetics I apply to my skin, I should be prepared to invest in superior tools to apply it. Quantity made way for quality and so began the cull of the brushes in my kit as I paid closer attention to the brushes I use and need, discarding and replacing only the essentials with a like for like of higher quality. Three years or so ago, when I made the transition to mineral makeup however, some of my brushes weren't conducive to applying this type of cosmetic and so several replacements were required. The BareMinerals Full Coverage Kabuki, as it's now known (formerly BareEscentuals) is. for me, an absolute essential and the brush I consider to be most important in my collection. Partly because it's the most used but also because it's just a fantastic all rounder. ~~~ What Is The Kabuki Brush ~~~ Kabuki's are designed to be used with dry, powder based cosmetics which is why this style of brush is ideal for use with mineral makeup. This Kabuki is incredibly versatile and although is excellent for applying blusher I use mine solely for applying my mineral foundation and mineral veil because the two products can be used together or on their own so it doesn't matter that I use the same brush for both products. The Kabuki brush originated from Japan where they were used predominantly by Geishas to contour the cheekbones, adding definition. Nowadays, Kabuki's are associated as much with the application of bronzer and all over face cover like translucent powder as they are blusher. The brush has a distinctive and easily recognisable design. Typically this brush is squat with a stumpy handle and dense head of hair that's approximately a half to two thirds larger than the base. This particular Kabuki has hairs are tapered into a gentle, almost dome formation, being shorter towards the outer edge and ever so slightly longer in the center. Some Kabuki's have a retractable handle making them easier to store. This one doesn't. It's a stand alone, so if I want to pop it in my handbag I need to cover the hairs first, storing it in a small cosmetic bag as they do have a tendency to trap some of the minerals after use, causing makeup residue to be distributed onto other contents in my possession. ~~~ Brush Design & Quality ~~~ Kabuki's range greatly in size. BareMinerals offering being quite small. An almost mini Kabuki, if you like measuring just 6 x 2.5 x 2.5cm. Despite it's dainty dimensions, I've found it to be the perfect size for applying my mineral makeup. Because it's not oversized, it's very easy to dust the brush over the face, allowing particular attention to a given area. The brush is incredibly light weight, no more than about 20g or so at best, yet, in my experience, in use, it remains very easy to handle and control. The overall design, is not one that instantly screams superior, particularly the shinny (mock) chrome handle which I think visibly cheapens the brush. In comparison to similar brushes within the same price range, this one, at first, appears over priced. Looks can be deceptive however, as after three years of daily use and with the exception of a few scratch marks and some writing printed on the handle that has long since worn off, the brush remains stable and has steadfastly kept almost all the hairs in place. In fact, with the exception of a few stray hairs when the brush was new, which I'm convinced were mainly leftovers from the manufacturing, it's a rarity for any to shed at all and the odd few that do from time to time are to be expected and there for perfectly acceptable considering the use it gets. The most distinguishing feature of this brush is the bristles, light brown in colouring. For me they are of paramount importance because their quality dictates the difference between a good makeup application and a great one. This Kabuki features a compact head of hairs, no more than 2.5cm approximately in length. Their overall structure is quite rigid allowing little flexibility. I feel this lack of movement is an advantage as the hairs don't bend or flex during application, leading to a superior coverage as the minerals are precisely directed to the skin, thus providing a fuller, more even coverage, less wastage and of course mess. When I first began using my Kabuki, back in 2009 the hairs were luxuriously soft and silky, from their bottom through to their tips which is largely thanks to the fact they're made from goats hair. I appreciate the delicate texture of animal hair is favoured by makeup professionals, however I personally deem this to be disadvantage and, in my opinion, the only real negative aspect of the brush. I'm certainly no animal rights activist, more a silent supporter of animal welfare and I've yet to be fully convinced methods of obtaining the hairs aren't cruel. BareMinerals claim the hairs for this brush have been sourced humanely, a statement I trust otherwise I would not continue to use their products. What they fail to say however, is exactly what country the hairs have been imported from. Whilst I don't doubt regulations are in place in some countries, in others they are most definitely not. Secondly, this brush may not be suitable for anyone with a severe allergy to animal hair. I've never endured any adverse effects from using, despite having sensitive skin but that said, I don't suffer severe allergies to animal hair either so it's worth bearing this in mind before you commit to a purchase. ~~~ In Use ~~~ This Kabuki brush has been designed specifically for use with mineral cosmetics and presumably it's smaller size was intentional as it's an almost perfect fit to swirl in the lids of the larger 8g mineral pots to retrieve the minerals. The brush will collect even the smallest amount of minerals. Even when tapping off the excess before application, very little is lost. You don't see any product on the brush, mainly because of the colouring of the hairs but also because the brush holds the minerals deep inside the hairs so it can be tempting to keep loading more product. Don't! as you begin to apply, the excess minerals will clog your skin and the overall finish will be less than perfect, leaving you with a chalky, unflattering appearance. Using my Kabuki for applying mineral foundation and veil allows me to build an even coverage very quickly without using dozens of separate brushes. On contact with the skin the bristles are incredibly soft making application incredibly easy as the brush gently glides and follows the contours of the face without causing irritation. Because the hairs are densely compact, as you buff the makeup onto the skin using circular motions, the brush releases just enough of the minerals to provide a full coverage (obviously with the exception of the delicate eye area where the Kabuki is too big to provide an even coverage). I have sensitive skin which typically consists of dry patches. The Kabuki brush allows me to cover my problem areas on my cheeks, nose and forehead with precision. The size of the brush head also makes it very easy to blend the minerals around my jaw line without leaving a "tide mark" and because the hairs are so soft, they cause no irritation either. When I use my minerals I do tend to use two different shades and rather than mixing the colours prior to application I use my Kabuki brush to blend them on the skin, which it does beautifully and because the brush is so effective at covering imperfections you don't need to apply much pressure and it's size alone means I can quickly cover my entire face. Obviously a brush of this ilk is compulsory for applying mineral makeup although I feel, due to the high quality of the bristles it would be perfectly suitable to using on traditional dry cosmetics, providing a far superior finish to than a sponge of powder buff. ~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~ Although I received my Kabuki brush in a BareMinerals starter kit although, through no fault of BareMinerals, it was quickly replaced a couple of months later because my younger daughter ruined the bristles. I've had my brush now since 2009 and it's still going strong although showing significant wear and tear. The handle shows minimal abuse, all of which is just superficial and it has a good grasp of the hairs, barely allowing any free over the past three years. Unfortunately the hairs have not been as fortunate and now look quite shabby. Continual use has resulted in the hair tips being worn down, this is particularly evident with the shorter ones towards the outside where, unsurprisingly the continual motion of buffing into the container lids has caused them to become slightly misshapen. The result is that the hairs no longer feel quite as soft as they once did and although the appearance of the brush suggests it needs replacing, it does actually still work quite well. Overall the brush has been superbly constructed and continued to provide me three years loyal service. I've no doubt that a contributing factor is down to the care I take with my brushes. I wash them every couple of weeks with warm soapy water, not just to prevent a mineral build up but also prevent bacteria and germs. I should imagine my rigorous cleansing routine has aided in extending the lifespan although BareMinerals really deserve the credit for manufacturing such a reliable and durable brush. It looks tatty in appearance but this should not detract from it's ability to do the job for which it was made. It's held together perfectly and in use, I still achieve the same great application results as the day I first started using. It shows no sign of giving up just yet as it still continues to provide me with the same coverage it did on day one. Purchased at full price I would expect the hairs to retain more of their shape but other than that I really have no complaints. I may not have perfect skin but I do at least have an almost perfect makeup brush. Five stars. ~~~ Price And Availability ~~~ As stated, my Kabuki came with my BareMinerals starter kit along with the Maximum Coverage Concealer (£14) and Flawless Application Face brush (£19). To purchase these individually would cost a whopping £57, the Kabuki brush alone setting you back £24 from BareMinerals.co.uk with additional postage of £2.99. If your looking to change to mineral makeup, buying a starter kit at £42 which also includes three trial sizes of minerals would be a sound investment and considerable saving. The Kabuki brush however can be purchased at most major department stores for the previously stated price or sourced more competitively online. Shopping around will pay dividends as some online retailers are selling the Kabuki for as little as £13.
I inflict a fair amount of stress to my hair including daily washing and heat styling. Regular blow drying and straightening leaves my hair worse for wears as the ends become coarse and dry and prone to breakage and without care my hair simply looks lifeless and dull. Although I do my utmost to compensate mistreating my locks by means of regular trips to my hairdresser, conditioning after every wash and heat defence to protect whilst straightening, my hair still needs an intensive treatment in order to maintain a good condition. I rarely remain loyal to any one haircare range and yet I've been so impressed with Gloss Me Smoothly shampoo and conditioner by VO5, a haircare brand that has seen a massive overhaul in both the packaging and contents of it's products that I decided to try Treat Me Right, an intensive twice weekly conditioner that's rich formula provides my hair with that extra nourishment a daily conditioner can't. ~~~ Hair Therapy ~~~ Treat Me Right is an intensive, deeply moisturising, rinse out conditioner designed to revive dry, damaged, coloured and heat styled hair by revitalising, strengthening and replenishing moisture, thus leaving hair feeling soft, conditioned and manageable whilst appearing healthy and shiny. Treat Me Right's key ingredients includes an infusion of pure essential oils all of which have proven benefits for both the skin and hair so naturally I assumed this product would be kind to my scalp where as some other intensive treatments I've used have left my head itchy due to the length of time I've needed to allow the product to stay on my hair or have used ingredients so potent the tingling sensation they created has been uncomfortable. This intensive treatment is gentle, only requiring to be left on the hair for between two and five minutes which for me isn't long enough to irritate and there's no strong ingredients such as mint that can create uncomfortable sensations on the scalp. Treat Me Right uses Avocado and Grape-seed for nourishment and shine, Apricot for moisturising and Jojoba for scalp moisturising but it's also an excellent suppressant to my frizz, smoothing my hair without it feeling weighted or looking lacklustre. The ingredient that initially caught my attention however was Argan oil. Rich in antioxidants and Vitamin E, Argan oil has been used for centuries as a hair treatment, smoothing and restoring the hair and improving elasticity and although it can be used on it's own, in it's purest form it's expensive so I was surprised to see it was included in the first place considering this is an affordable high street brand and not an expensive salon treatment. ~~~ Dream Cream ~~~ Treat Me Right is a slightly off white, pearlescent cream with quite a thick, gloopy consistency that's actually an advantage as less product is needed to coat the hair, making it easier to apply but also helping to hold it in place meaning less products drips off my hair. The cream feels gorgeously silky with a luxurious velvet smooth texture, that can probably be attributed to the essential oils and yet despite this it doesn't feel sticky or greasy, just very soft and actually quite light. The cream also has an absolutely divine aroma as subtle hints of Apricot and Jasmine are combined with delicate floral undertones that leave the cream with an almost sweet smell reminiscent of sugar candy, a fragrance that is not pungent, sickly or insipid and despite being a treatment that anyone can use there's no escaping the aroma remains distinctly feminine. Available from most supermarkets and chemists, a fully recyclable 300ml screw top tub, retails between £3.50 and £4.50 and although I've seen some VO5 shampoo and conditioner ranges in discount stores I've never noticed this particular one at a reduced price but that's not to say it can't be found cheaper else where. At full price, I personally feel this is still excellent value. My hair is now cut to shoulder length and I manage a good twenty to twenty five applications per tub. Based on an average three applications per week, one tub will last me approximately two months although admittedly I edge towards the generous side when applying so it's possible I could stretch the contents a little further. ~~~ Using Treat Me Right ~~~ I was advised by my hairdresser, intensive conditioners are most effective when used between a standard shampoo and conditioner so I simply wash my hair as normal and squeeze out excess water and apply Treat Me Right to my hair using an amount almost the size of a golf ball which is sufficient to fully coat my hair although this would easily be enough if your hairs several inches longer. I usually apply when I'm in the bath or I independently wash my hair as the tub isn't really conducive to being used in the shower as it's awkward to remove the contents without swamping the container with water, let alone trying to prevent the water from rinsing the hair and yet haircare manufactures always favour these tubs for intensive conditioners so although my preference would be a squeezy container at least with tubs you can retrieve every last drop of the product ensuring there's no wastage. I find it easier to apply to my hair with my head upside down so I can reach all of my hair, even underneath. I smooth through the entire length of my hair from the roots, paying more attention to the ends which are more susceptible to becoming dry and brittle. The cream glides easily through my hair and as I lightly massage I can feel just how soft the cream is as immediately I can finger comb tangles with ease. I leave on my hair for five minutes before thoroughly rinsing where it washes out beautifully, without leaving any traces of product residue, I then apply my normal conditioner before towel drying and styling. ~~~ Hydration Elation....My results ~~~ From the first application, Treat Me Right provided my hair with fantastic results, although I confess I've been using in conjunction with VO5's Gloss Me Smoothly shampoo and conditioner which may have contributed to the positive results I've experienced. Directly after rinsing my hair, I always notice an amazing difference in the texture. Even damp my hair feels squeaky clean and incredibly soft and surprisingly for such a rich, oil based formula my hair neither feels greasy or sticky. The product successfully controls my frizz even preventing humidity from causing my hair to puff or kink and it manages to do it without weighing my hair down or leaving it limp which in turn makes my hair much easier and quicker to style. Because my hair is very soft my comb and straighteners glide through with ease which speeds up styling time whilst dramatically reducing the amount of heat stress I need to inflict on my hair to achieve my desired results. I now rarely use much more than a few spritzes of frizz relaxer to aid with styling and heat defence to provide some extra protection. My only criticism of the product would be that immediately after styling because my hair is so soft and full of movement it can become a little flyaway, however a little spritz with hairspray seems to prevent this and it could just be my hair type as opposed to the product, either way it certainly not a downside by any means. I've noticed in the past five months I've used Treat Me Right on a regular basis that my hair not only feels in great condition but looks healthier too as it has a subtle sheen, not perhaps the glossy results I initially expected but definitely much shinier and the ends that are prone to becoming dry and split feel and look less coarse, so although not a cure for split ends as only cutting can fully remove them, I'm happy that they are at least protected and no longer so visibly prominent. My hair feels really conditioned and healthy and I'm certain this intensive conditioner has helped strengthen it as there's a reduction in the amount of hairs I shed, a problem that with very thick hair, I've always had only now it seems to happen less frequently. I now consider Treat Me Right to be more a necessity than a luxury, as I rely on this intensive conditioner to replenish and protect my hair, which it always does without fail. The results of Treat Me Right are immediate and even though I wash and condition my hair on a daily basis the benefits of Treat Me Right still last a couple of days ensuring my hair is always manageable and tamed. My hair always feels nourished and hydrated, looks and feels gorgeously soft and the lingering scent remains for most of the day (at least it does when I don't apply additional products). Treat Me Right's formula is so rich and effective, I've no doubt it can visibly and physically improve the appearance and condition of even the most desperate of hair in the poorest of condition. It may take several applications to fully reap the benefits but it would definitely be a sound investment if you want to improve the overall condition of your hair. I love this product. It exceeded most of my expectations and it speaks volumes that I have continued to use it week on week for almost five months and so I have no hesitation in recommending!
I accept imperfections equal individuality, that dark circles, uneven skin and blemishes are the simple quirks of ones appearance but that doesn't mean I like them on myself. I've always been self conscious regarding my own "perceived" skin inadequacies and consequently seldom leave my house without wearing make up of some description. If nothing else a good concealer is Paramount and Multi Tasking Summer Bisque (here on referred to as just Summer Bisque) is an imperative product in my cosmetic case. Although it's primary use is as a concealer it can be just as easily adapted to become an all over face cover or foundation. ~~~ What Is Summer Bisque ~~~ Summer Bisque, not to be confused with the slightly paler shade of Bisque is a multi tasking mineral concealer that works in much the same way as my old traditional liquid or stick concealers. It's designed to camouflage unwanted blemishes and conceal minor skin imperfections such as Rosacea, broken capillaries and light scarring but also doubles as an eye shadow base where a light dusting along the eye lids provides me with an excellent base that holds the shadow in place and prevents the colour from sinking into the creases and smudging. Derived from a blend of natural minerals and organic extracts finely ground to a powder of near dust consistency, Summer bisque is incredibly light weight both to apply and wear and has a lovely soft, velvety texture which lends to a smooth, creamy application and flawless finish, brightening my skin whilst hiding imperfections with absolutely no scent what so ever, a definite benefit as I'm not akin to scented products to my face. Summer Bisque is a light to medium shade, delicate honey/golden brown in colouring that looks deceptively darker than it actually is on retail websites. It's suitable for fair to medium complexions, although for Porcelain tones I feel this maybe just a shade too dark however these minerals are versatile and I love that Summer Bisque can be combined with other mineral concealer and foundation shades to achieve a perfect skin match, particularly useful if I need to adapt the shade for lighter or slightly heavier coverage. These minerals can also be used as a stand alone face colour in replacement of foundation or used both under and over foundation and/or Mineral Veil, which saves significant time if I want to touch up my makeup during the day as unlike traditional concealers that can't be applied over loose and pressed powder Summer bisque can. I have fair skin and this concealer is the perfect colour match for my complexion, blending beautifully with my natural skin tone, concealing my light blemishes, dark circles and red cheeks without leaving my skin "cakey" or with the obligatory light orange colouring, the tell tale shade traditional concealers can develop throughout the day. ~~~ The Beauty Of Summer Bisque ~~~ It's ironic that the traditional cosmetics I once applied to my face to conceal problem areas contained chemicals that probably aggravated dermatological conditions, in particular spots (a problem I curiously suffer on occasion despite being in my mid thirties and implementing a reasonable skin care regime) and it's the main reason I wanted to convert to mineral makeup. Unlike other brands who's mineral cosmetics are simply powdered versions of their liquid counterparts, BareMinerals are natural. Summer Bisque is formulated with SPF 20 and without the inclusion of alcohol that can be drying or chemical ingredients such as talc, preservatives, synthetic fragrances, pigmentation's or fillers that block pores and aggravate sensitive skin. For a user like myself who has sensitive, combination skin, typically consisting of an oily t-zone and dry cheeks this is a God send as I can effectively conceal flaws without causing further irritation or flaking on dry patches. The minerals also control and reduce oily breakouts and shine through the day keeping my makeup looking pristine. ~~~ Applying Summer Bisque ~~~ The application technique is simple and once mastered it reduced my makeup application time considerably as there's no need to apply several different products and finish with powder however it did take a few attempts to perfect. The key to achieving the best results with Summer Bisque is "less is more". It's tempting at first to over apply, assuming these minerals require a heavy application to be effective, however it's surprising how little are needed to get a full coverage, particularly in comparison to traditional concealers. As a rule of thumb I always apply the minerals after I have cleansed and moisturised my skin to provide a "base". Application is a recommended swirl, tap and buff. I add a tiny amount of the product into the container lid, (a process made easier if your container has a click/lock system which allows control when dispensing the minerals) swirl my brush into the minerals, tap off any excess (there should be no visible minerals on the brush prior to application) then I apply to the skin using either gentle circular buffing motions, dabbing or patting depending on the exact area I want to cover and the brush I am using. I generally prefer to apply a little mineral foundation afterwards but to save time I often mix the two prior to applying. The minerals glide onto the skin effortlessly and need minimum buffing to blend. They feel soft and creamy upon application and the end result is a medium matte coverage with a weightless feel that leaves the skin looking far more natural than any liquid concealer ever could and yet it effectively camouflages moderate flaws without drawing attention to problem areas leaving my skin feeling hydrated not dry. Throughout application it never feels as though makeup is being applied. You can't see minerals on the brushes or your skin, nor can you feel them being blended so it can take a few attempts to get used to the fact that your skin feels naked even though it clearly isn't. I can apply other cosmetics such as eyeliner, brow pencil, eye shadow and blusher as normal without the minerals smudging or shifting and I can also lightly touch my face without smearing the minerals or transferring onto clothes. I always use BareMineral brushes to apply Summer Bisque because they're specially designed for applying these minerals. Their bristles are non absorbent and don't trap the minerals nor release them too quickly causing wastage and their soft tapered designs allow for complete control during application. I use the Maximum Coverage Concealer for precision covering under the eyes where small dabbing motions are most effective to reach into the corners of the eyes and over the lids but also because this method is less harsh on this delicate under eye area. I use the Kabuki brush to apply a quick all over face cover. Although it's not essential to use their brushes I do feel they are the best choice to apply Summer Bisque and in my mind if your prepared to invest in quality cosmetics you may as well use the correct brush to achieve optimum results and get the the most from the minerals. ~~~ My Opinion ~~~ For me, Summer Bisque, which I consider to be more a "skin corrector" than concealer is a little confidence booster, providing the right balance of coverage to camouflage my imperfections which include a little Rosacea, blotches and discolouration without irritation as well as providing me with a more even skin tone without the appearance of wearing heavy makeup. For users with clearer skin a light dusting of Summer bisque as an all over face cover or just a few dabs on problem areas will be sufficient to achieve a beautiful natural skin tone and flawless complexion although I personally feel happier with a little mineral foundation applied as well. Summer Bisque really is a multi tasking concealer. Versatile for use on all skin types including dry, sensitive, greasy and the like but also suitable for any skin tone and age range. In my mid thirties I have the beginnings of crows feet and a few fine lines and Summer Bisque doesn't accentuate them at all either immediately after application or throughout the day. A dusting over my cheeks not only evens my complexion but also minimises the appearance of enlarged pores as the minerals glide over the skin rather than sinking into the pores making them appear more prominent, which is a complete contradiction to a traditional powdered cosmetic. Summer Bisque really is also incredibly hard working, not just complimenting my skin but also working with it. I've noticed a significant reduction in oily breakouts as a direct result of using the minerals as they absorb the oils before they can smudge my makeup or gause my t-zone to look greasy. I'm certainly less prone to breakouts and they've had a calming effect on my sensitive skin, previous cosmetics would make my skin itch or cause flaking, Summer Bisque doesn't. As an undereye concealer Summer Bisque works wonders at concealing dark circles where the minerals help to neutralise the darker colouring as well as brighten the area, all without the need of any harsh rubbing to blend and cover. Summer Bisque is also long wearing, I can get a good twelve hours from the minerals without clogging andIn fact I can even wear Summer Bisque during my workouts where the minerals hold in place with almost no smudging, although heavy sweating does cause them to deteriorate and so a light dusting to touch up is required to regain the flawless complexion. There are of course a couple of downsides to Summer Bisque although neither has caused me to reduce my overall rating as they don't directly effect me. These minerals are not waterproof so although they can tolerate light sweating, splashes of water (cleanser or soap is required to fully remove) will wash them off so I couldn't recommend them for swimmers or anyone planning a trip to the seaside which includes a dip in the water nor do I think that they would be an effective camouflage for prominent pigmentation discolouration such as birth marks as I feel this shade may not be dark enough for a complete camouflage but I think they would certainly reduce the appearance significantly. Overall I think that Summer Bisque is excellent value for money considering the benefits to the skin and the coverage you receive and even purchased at the pricier end of the market it is still an excellent cosmetic investment if you want to use a mineral concealer. ~~~ Availability And Longevity ~~~ I buy Summer Bisque in 2gram containers, the most widely available size. They retail at bareminerals.co.uk for £19.00 excluding postage which is an additional £2.99 standard delivery but there are cheaper on-line alternatives. 1.2gram containers are available but are less cost effective. Department stores in my area don't sell BareMineral products so I buy mine from EBay where a 2gram container costs an average £12.00 inclusive of postage. The initial outlay may seem steep but a little really goes a long way. I'm quite a heavy user and 2grams will generally last me around four to five months (with daily use) which averages at a cost effective 7pence per day working out significantly cheaper for me than most basic high street alternatives but even if you don't use them this frequently because the minerals contain no moisture to cause bacteria or chemicals that inevitably cause deterioration these minerals will happily last for years (my BareMineral Warmth is still going strong almost two years after purchasing) and the entire packaging is recyclable, so kind to the environment as well as the skin.
Central Hollywood is principally considered to be the capital of the US movie industry although most studios have long since relocated. The Hollywood Boulevard, a two and a half mile stretch of road cuts through the centre of Hollywood is fabled for it's star studded walk of fame, Grauman's Chinese Theatre and Kodak Theatre, home to the most prestigious entertainment accolade the Academy Awards. To the outside world, Hollywood is the epitome of glamour. The boulevard is lined with palm trees, a stones throw from the multi million dollar mansions of the rich and famous with their lush lawns and gated communities so it's no wander many tourists, myself included are a little disheartened by their first impressions of the boulevard. Once the most glamours of thoroughfares, little now remains of the original splendour of bygone years. The boulevard is as fickle as the industry it's associated with as most images are just an illusion. Palm trees are not native to California, mansion lawns would not be green were it not for the billions of gallons of water pumped to the state each day and the boulevard is an over commercialised, dirty street in downtown LA. Hollywood and it's famous boulevard is over rated and tacky but that doesn't mean it's not a fun place to visit! ~~~~ Hollywood Walk Of Fame ~~~~ It's hard to believe that the iconic landmark is a fairly recent addition to the boulevard. In 1960 Stanley Kramer was the first celebrity to be immortalised in the pavement and since then around two and a half thousand stars have been added, lining either side of the pavements of the boulevard between the intersections with La Brea Street to the west and Gower Street to the east but stars also spill over from Yukka Street to the north, travelling south along Vine Street as far as Sunset Boulevard. Made from a Terrazzo composite with a brass star bearing the celebrities name embedded in the top, the walk of fame is a chronological history of industry movers and shakers. A little under one and a half kilometres long, the route passes other popular attractions including the Hollywood Wax Works, Guinness Book Of Records Museum and Madame Tussuad's. Walking the entire route, in honesty was boring. I was unfamiliar with many names and a little disillusioned by the depressing reality of this once glamorous street. Some parts of the walk are notoriously sleazy and those who partake in unsavoury activities are well catered for. Windows of stores specialising in what I politely describe as "curb fashion" have prominent displays of PVC dresses, sex toys and x-rated movies within spitting distance of popular tourist haunts and they stand out from the landmarks as prominently as the people that frequent them do from the tourists. Personally, I think if you pick up a free map found at most vendors, hotels, hostels and stores you can easily pin point your celebrities of interest without doing the lengthy foot work, reassured you haven't really missed much as at the end of the day it's just a pavement bearing names and it's not that exciting despite all the fuss that's made when a new star is laid. ~~~~ Hollywood And Highland Centre ~~~~ Sitting at the junction of the Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue is the aptly named Hollywood and Highland centre, a huge shopping mall and entertainment complex with more than one hundred retail outlets and restaurants spanning five floors and consuming more than 387,000 square feet. The complex has been credited to raising the profile of the boulevard since it was built ten years ago, mainly because the Kodak Theatre, home to the Academy awards ceremony is located inside. Organised tours are available from booths inside the centre although I never bothered. The entrance to the centre, up the large staircase from the boulevard to the first floor (known as the awards walk) is the very same entrance draped in red carpet that the celebrities walk on Oscar night. The grand open staircase sweeps you straight into the centre where plenty of variation in individual retail outlets means there's something for everyone so it's not just designer labels that can be found here, although it is the vast majority! The mall is light, bright and airy with walkways that provide visitors with their first (distant) view of those iconic nine white letters in the Hollywood Hills framed by a huge archway in the central courtyard. The Hollywood sign is faint, so to obtain the best pictures you may need a zoom lens. One of my biggest memories of the centre however was the background music and it's constant repetition of movie songs, particularly popular ones such as Indiana Jones and Back To The Future!. The Hollywood and Highland is definitely worth a visit even if it's just to grab a bite to eat and a quick perusal of shop windows although there is a bowling alley and bars inside as well. ~~~~ Grauman's Chinese Theatre ~~~~ The second of two theatres designed by Sid Grauman, the first being the Egyptian Theatre located a little further along the boulevard sits latched on to the Hollywood and Highland Centre and is one of the most iconic of all the attractions on the boulevard and indeed Hollywood. First opened in 1927, Grauman's is the site for almost all Hollywood movie premiers but it's greatest draw comes from the stone forecourt where the hand prints of more than 100 celebrities line it's pavement. The theatre's gaudy exterior stands out like a sore thumb on the boulevard, garish in comparison to almost every other building. Designed to resemble a Chinese pagoda, the building is bright red and actually quite a fun design, not much is conservative in Hollywood!. Two giant lions guard either side of the forecourt along with stone dragons climbing the main walls. The theatre is usually congested with tourists all vying to take photos of the paving slabs and there's usually several booths set up close by to sell Hollywood tours. Watch out for the folk dressed up as super heroes and movie characters ready to part you with a couple of dollars for photo opportunities. The theatre does run as a normal cinema but if your vigilant you won't have to pay to enter to view a movie. There's usually people handing out tickets to movie premieres granting you free entry to watch the film and be part of a little Hollywood glam but don't expect to walk a red carpet as these premiers are not for big budget blockbusters more accurately straight to DVD. I managed to bag a couple of tickets, one of which was for a diabolical Val Kilmer film called Wonderland. Early evening the theatre was teeming with people and Kilmer did make an appearance along with a few other celebrities on the forecourt granting autographs and photo opportunities. Another evening, the boulevard was cordoned off for Quintin Tarantino's Kill Bill premiere. The red carpet was out, although the theatre was closed for the screening there were plenty of freebies in the form of signed posters and the like being handed out to those watching from behind the barriers. Inside the theatre is just as opulent as it's exterior and on my visits packed full, so que for snacks for the cinema early and be prepared to pay over the odds for your popcorn and coke! The actual auditorium is a rich, vibrant red, again ornate and chintzy with gold beading, oriental style lamps and shades and a massive chandelier hanging in the centre of the ceiling. The theatre is a bit glam and far fetched but it's also fun and worth a visit. The theatre does run guided tours but I would stick to the freebie tickets and free pamphlets that document the history of the building. ~~~~ Dining ~~~~ One thing you find with America in general is you are never far from an eatery (no matter how remote your location first appears) and assuming you don't want to travel further afield there's plenty of varied tucker to be found on the boulevard or the numerous roads that spring from it ranging from typical American burgers to Italian and Mexican, some obviously better value than others. One eatery that is worth a visit is favourite haunt of Shirley Temple and host of her 16th birthday party the Pig 'n' Whistle which makes for a nice meal break with a reasonable sized menu selling traditional "pub fayre" consisting of burgers, club sandwiches, steaks and pizzas at a decent price in comparison to Hollywood prices. Founded in 1927, the Pig 'n' Whistle served a loyal list of celebrities before it's slow demise and eventual closure then in 1999, this once famed restaurant saw a million pound renovation to restore it to it's former glory with much of it's original character still remaining today. The interior is stunning with the bar and ceiling being constructed with ornately carved dark wood but the whole place feels bright and has a cheery atmosphere. It's a bustling little eatery next to the Egyptian theatre that caters for all family members for as little as around $20.00 per head for adults which includes drinks. ~~~~ The Boulevard And Beyond ~~~~ Definitely worth a visit is the Hollywood farmers market, located at Ivar and Selma Avenue just off Hollywood and Vine. The market gets very busy offering some of the best of Californian produce as well as plenty of stalls selling baked goods, cakes, deli items, hand crafts and flowers. It's a lovely market and most of the produce is reasonably priced. Along the market walk there are also craft work shops and street musicians amongst the tourists and shoppers. The market has a lovely vibrancy and is a world away from the bustle and grime of the boulevard and also little known to the majority of the tourists who visit. The boulevard is also home to many television studios and tickets to the likes of Jimmy Kimmel live are free. Barriers are erected late afternoon and all that's required is to join the queue for free entry and then it's just a gamble as to who's on the shows as to who you will see. These talk shows are very popular and work on a first come, first served basis. I queued with a group of others for around thirty minutes to enter the studio and Jimmy's guests on my visit were Evander Holyfield, Daryl Hannah and Kermit the Frog! Shows are only a couple of hours of filming but are great fun and FREE!!! If you have the time and energy to explore Griffith Park just north east of the boulevard it's worth a visit (and some peace away from the hoards of tourists). There are numerous trails and it's also where you will get the best vantage points for the Hollywood sign, located at Mount Lee. Access to the sign is prohibited but you do get a much better view and thus picture and the various trails provide some great views of Hollywood! The Hollywood Boulevard is a stones throw from other famous landmarks and districts like Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Fairfax and the golden rule is the Hollywood Boulevard for the iconic landmarks, Sunset for the bars and nightlife including the famous Rainbow Bar, grubby Viper Room, once owned by Johnny Depp, Whisky Go Go Bar and Comedy Store as well as the plush hotels of Chateau Marmont and the Mondrian. A little further afield (20 mins by bus) is Rodeo Drive, a visit to which can incorporate a walking tour of Beverly Hills with views of the "stars" homes and popular movie locations. Despite all the hype my visit provided me with the worlds most famous shopping street being "under construction" looking a world away from the elegant street I was expecting. A little window shopping was as close to the stores as I ever got as most stores wouldn't entertain a scruffy backpacker and even if they did I certainly could not afford anything they sold!. At the bottom of Rodeo Drive is the Regent Beverly Wiltshire Hotel, brought to the worlds attention for being Richard Gere's accommodation of choice in pretty Woman. You can enter and wander around (plenty of tourists do) and staff are very accommodating to tourists, the hotel happy to provide souvenir leaflets and the like. The hotel had a major face lift a few years after the film was released so the interior is unrecognisable to that depicted in the film although there is plenty of Pretty Women memorabilia on the walls, including signed scripts and photos. Of course, by far the biggest attraction is Universal Studios, located in Burbank which can be easily reached by the subway in around ten to fifteen minutes. The park requires a good day, preferably two but deals are to be had to save money. There is usually people handing out two for one discounts and group vouchers along the boulevard and at the tour booths so it's always worth checking before you reach the park and pay full price. ~~~~ Places To Stay And Getting Away ~~~~ Despite being told by Hollywood residents that everyone in LA has a car and public transport is pretty poor I found that the boulevard has pretty good bus and train links to just about every place I wanted to visit. A ten minute walk to Sunset Strip and there were plenty of buses running the entire Strip, dropping off near the famous clubs and bars and heading straight into Beverly Hills frequently day and late into the evening. The boulevard has numerous subway stops, probably the most convenient being at Hollywood and Highland and Hollywood and Vine. Universal Studios was incredibly easy to reach, just a ten minute ride on the metro red line to Universal City and from there you can board a free studio shuttle to the park entrance so for those not on a fly drive holiday, public transportation is no problem in west Hollywood. Metro cards offer savings if you plan several trips away from the boulevard, otherwise for under $4.00 for a return to Universal and around the same by bus into Beverly Hills, Burbank and the surrounding areas. At the time of my visit I was a backpacker so my budget restricted me to staying in cheap hotels and hostels. I opted for the USA Hollywood Hostel on Schrader Street just one block from the boulevard. Simple, cheap and clean accommodation. My dorm room slept six people and had an en-suite bathroom. The hostel has a cafeteria, lounge and video room, WiFi and plenty of other facilities and also offered group excursions and tours to the outlaying neighbourhoods as well as free breakfast for all backpackers. If your after more premium accommodation the choice is endless with options from mid range to exclusive all within a stones throw of the boulevard. I arrived from San Diego via Greyhound to down town LA, the price of my ticket included a transfer to Hollywood although fed up with the over crowded bus station and sheer confusion I took a taxi to the hostel at a cost of around $25.00 which saved me a cramped journey and hour waiting time for my transfer. ~~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~~ The Hollywood boulevard can be daunting on a first visit, particularly if you don't arrive with an open mind or keep your wits about you, although it's fairly obvious if you stray into an iffy area. A couple of hours on a fleeting visit will be long enough for a quick tour of the iconic landmarks and some good photo opportunities but a week or more is adequate for a full exploration of the boulevard, outlying districts and attractions. Personally I like to take the road less travelled and in Hollywood this is just not an option as just about everything is commercialised and just about every attraction, shop, bar or restaurant that isn't worth it's weight and populated by tourists or residents it's not worth the visit. it is a fun place to be with something for everyone, although I wouldn't want to spend too much time with small children here as I don't think there's much they would understand or to keep them interested. Los Angeles has a warm year round climate, averaging around 60 odd degrees so a visit any time of year will usually provide good weather. It's sad to think that with the inevitable demise of the starlets that I associate from Hollywood's golden era (Monroe, Garbo, Hepburn and the like) also seemed to signify the downward spiral of the Hollywood Boulevard. The road that once bore the expensive heels of the graceful Gods of the big screen now carries the weight of in excess of five million tourists cheap trainers annually. The Hollywood Boulevard became a place where more dreams were broken than they were made but today much is being done to clean up the street and move on the beggars and prostitutes and it's better for it. Despite many visitors moaning about the boulevard I actually had a fabulous time in Hollywood and personally think a trip to Hollywood wouldn't be complete without a visit to it's still famous boulevard. (This review also appears on Ciao with accompanying photos)
It's almost impossible to explore Barcelona and fail to notice the north west side of the city is overlooked by the dominating rock of Mount Tibidabo elevated some 1695 feet (around 517 metres) above the city, the highest peak in the Serra de Collserola, separating Barcelona from the north plains (Les Planes). Mount Tibidabo, also known as Magic Mountain is home to the beautiful Temple de Sagrat Cor and Parc d'Atraccions del Tibidabo, the two most popular attractions but there's several other points of interest as well including Fabra Observatory and Museu dels Autòmats (although these won't be included in my review as I never visited either of them). A trip to the summit will reward visitors with the most stunning views of the city to the Mediterranean Sea but equally as impressive as the views atop Tibidabo is the journey to it's peak. I opted to ride the blue tram (Tramvia Blau) to the half way point and then the funicular railway to the summit and entrance to the amusement park. It's a few Euros more expensive than the aptly named "Tibibus" that runs directly from the Placa Catalunya to Tibidabo but it's a far more interesting journey that's worth the extra money. ~~~~ The Journey To Tibidabo ~~~~ To reach the tram requires a short train ride from the Placa Catalunya, the transportation hub of Barcelona easily recognisable thanks to it's circular decorated pavement designed by the Catalonian modernism artist Joan Miro, several fountains and monuments. Take the L7 FGC train from the plaza to Avinguda de Tibidabo costing around a couple of euros for a return journey, unless you have previously purchased a travel card. The first leg of the journey up the mountain is to board the Tramvia Blau, a charming and authentic wooden tram that's been running visitors to Tibidabo since 1901. The journey from Avinguda de Tibidabo to the half way point of Plaça del Doctor Andreu only lasts around ten minutes as it traverses through the leafy suburbs, climbing and clanking at a snails pace, providing plenty of photo opportunities courtesy of the pretty views and also a chance to scoff at the grander dwellings of the wealthy Barcelonans, that's if you manage to board a tram that hasn't packed in the tourists like sardines! A return trip costs around four Euros which you hand over to an old style conductor. The Plaça del Doctor Andreu is a popular destination with several shops, restaurants and bars and makes a nice refreshment stop for those travelling to or from Tibidabo and also provides your first real taster of the stunning views you will witness once at the summit. It's also a nice little respite from the hoards of tourists who que to board the funicular during peak season. The final part of the journey is to board the funicular here at the Placa del Doctor Andreu (named after the founder of the amusement park) where you disembark the tram and transfer to the funicular. The funicular, a small train that cuts sharply and at times steeply through the mountain and forests, providing yet more scenic views. Again, it's a pleasurable but short ride, costing around six Euros for a return ticket. During peak season both services run frequently, every fifteen minutes or so but the carriages fill up quickly and it's worth mentioning here that even during late September when I visited the routes were still very popular and leaving it too long towards the end of the day will culminate in a very long wait to return back down the mountain! ~~~~ Tibidabo Amusement Park ~~~~ It's claimed that the Parc d'Atraccions del Tibidabo is one of the biggest amusement parks in Europe and is the oldest amusement park in Barcelona. I have no doubt that the park is the fundamental reason why most tourists, particularly those with young children visit Tibidabo. It's a curious little park not just for it's location perched at the summit of Tibidabo but also because of it's eclectic mix of antique rides. In general as the whole park harps back to a bygone era of vintage funfairs, changing little since it was built back in 1889. The park has a reasonable mix and balance of rides (around 30 or so in total) suitable for all ages, some a little more mainstream than others like the popular Montana Rusa roller coaster and L'Alaska mini flume ride as well as other attractions like dodgems, go-karts, magic mirrors and plenty of rides to be appreciated by smaller children like the flying balloons and merry go rounds and other attractions such as regular puppet shows and a cute little steam train to tour the park. D'Atraccions del Tibidabo makes for a nice day out, if nothing else but to keep the children amused although adults may not be so impressed with entry price. Facilities are adequate, a couple of eateries and picnic areas with vantage points but as expected prices are higher than you should really pay. The park has an antiquated aura and charm only enhanced by the majority of authentic attractions. Youngsters will definitely appreciate the attractions more than teenagers due to it's distinct lack of white knuckle rides, so thrill seekers will almost certainly be disappointed. The park oozes character but as magical and charming as it is though I should imagine most adults, like myself will fight to alleviate impending boredom as the novelty of this quaint little park begins to wear off. For me, the twenty five or so Euros for an adult ticket (with concessions for OAP's and the disabled) and children's entry slightly cheaper at nine Euros (free admission for children under 90cm) was expensive for what you actually get as I had little interest in the majority of the rides. To amble the park with children dedicate a good day, otherwise three to four hours is sufficient in my opinion. If you don't want to pay full entry for the amusement park but would like to to take advantage of some rides then the Skywalk, located at the top level at Tibidabo is the best option. Several rides are available including the popular and iconic Pan-O-Ramic (Ferris Wheel) and an early attempt of a flight simulator courtesy of Tibi-Air, the little suspended red aeroplanes that spin around. Rides at the Skywalk are pay as you go or you can opt for a multi ticket to cover all the rides on the Skywalk, which i think is a much better option if your visiting without little ones. ~~~~ Temple de Sagrat Cor ~~~~ With the exception of the spectacular views, the Temple de Sagrat Cor is the only other reason I wanted to visit Tibidabo. You don't need an interest in architecture or religion to appreciate the building although it probably helps. The Church of the sacred heart sits majestically at the top of the Mount Tibidabo and can be clearly seen from vantage points across the city, particularly striking at night when fully lit providing the exterior with an eery, chilling appearance. During the day however, the church is more inviting and a closer inspection doesn't disappoint as the building is visually stunning and interesting, inside and out. Designed by Enric Sagnier, the church is a relatively new addition to Tibidabo with construction only starting in 1901 with the build spanning sixty years before completion in 1961. A large lower crypt carved into the mountain with a surprisingly (smaller than I expected) church perched above topped with a bronze statue of Christ. A mish mash of architectural influences that include modern, medieval and neo classical with much if the emphasis on neo Gothic. The temple has an incredibly busy facade with endless vertical columns topped with fussy and intricate brick detailing, numerous, ornate turrets and spires and stone carvings. It's a "style" that shouldn't work. The collaboration of so many design influences should be a disaster and yet the facade is whimsical and intriguing although it lacks the enchantment of Gaudi's creations. Decor inside the crypt mirrors the cluttered exterior but is stunning none the less and provides a real "wow factor" as you enter. Rich colours, ornate paintings and stone carvings, not an inch of stone has been left undecorated and it's all topped with a beautiful central dome but above all considering the density of the building, inside is actually very bright. The mass of colour on the walls is incredibly uplifting, not at all somber or moody as I was expecting. I'm not going to go fully into the details of every nook and cranny as there are too many Biblical scenes and references to mention including paintings, carvings, stained glass windows and more but also because for anyone who wants to visit, it's a lovely surprise to enter such a vibrant and awe inspiring place of worship. Upon entry you can take a free pamphlet that details the major aspects of the decoration in greater depth allowing you to pin point places of interest and revert back to the pamphlet as reference. A much better way to gain appreciation of the art works that adorn the walls and ceilings. You are permitted to ride a lift to the top to a viewing platform by the statue of Christ but whilst entry to the church is free, you are charged a couple of Euros to reach the top and nice as it is to view you don't really get to see an awful lot more than what you did at ground level so I don't think your really missing anything if decide to stay at the bottom. ~~~~ Torre De Collserola ~~~~ Not strictly at the summit of Tibidabo, the Torre De Collserola, built in 1991 sits in stark contrast to the beautiful Temple de Sagrat Cor for all the wrong reasons. The telecommunication tower, immediately south west of Tibidabo is a blight in the beautiful landscape, it's ugly structure standing 288 metres high but it does make up for it's pitiful appearance by doubling as an observation tower and restaurant. It's easy to access the tower, a short walk from the funicular along the Cami de Vallvidrera al Tibidabo where a trip to the 360 degree glass observation deck will lighten the wallet by around five Euros but the tower provides undeniably spectacular panoramic views that are worth every penny. Picture perfect views across Barcelona with clear sights of the Tibidabo temple, Montjuic, the Sagrada Familia, the Olympic Staduim and beyond. ~~~~ Other Information ~~~~ My first visit to Barcelona was in late September where temperatures were still hot but bearable with only a couple of muggy evenings. It's worth mentioning here that a five day festival called the La Merce runs from around the 22nd - 25th September with the main highlight on the 24th. Barcelona, particularly Las Ramblas becomes very busy as thousands of people visit the city and take to the streets and accommodation is at a premium so you'd do well to confirm reservations well in advance. I spent ten days in the city staying at the centrally located Hotel Aneto, a two minute walk from Las Ramblas and five from the Placa Catalunya. The room was basic but very clean with an en-suite and basic amenities and the staff were accommodating and friendly. I don't recall the exact price I paid for the room but it was incredibly competitive considering it's location. ~~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~~ Barcelona is a vibrant and cultured city with a very laid back ambiance. A week could easily incorporate a trip to Tibidabo without encroaching too much on other attractions. Allow a full day if you want to explore all the attractions on the mountain otherwise a four to five hours (including travel) should be sufficient. Tibidabo is a stunning area that allows you to get a real birds eye view of the city and it's surrounding mountains and rugged, hilly landscapes and it's definitely worth the trip although if I were to visit again I would probably give the amusement park a miss. The journey to the mountain can feel a little claustraphobic with both the Tramvia Blau and funicular travelling over maximum capacity and those who suffer vertigo should definitely give the mountain a wide berth. For everyone else the journey there and the mountain itself is perfectly suited to families, especially those travelling with small children in buggys and prams and also the disabled, which is excellent as everyone should have the chance to view this beautiful area of Barcelona.
A trip to New York doesn't have to be all about the bustle and bright lights of the worlds most photographed city and Battery Parks a prime example of how you can still appreciate the essence of Manhattan at a slower pace. Located at the southern most tip of lower Manhattan, Battery is the second largest public recreation ground, after Central park and downtown Manhattan's largest public open space. Part sandwiched between the dominating high risers of New York's financial district, an impressive skyline even now, after the drastic alteration caused by the collapse of the twin towers and part surrounded by the chilly waters of the harbour where the Hudson and east Rivers converge with the Atlantic ocean. I think Battery is overlooked as a tourist destination in favour of more popular attractions. Many visitors only frequenting in brief to board the harbour ferries, however Battery is a destination in it's own right with plenty to keep the curious visitor occupied for a peaceful day of exploration. I was ignorant of the parks beauty before my first visit to New York but having now frequented many times over, I have yet to be disappointed by it's offerings and I never tire of of the magnificent views across the harbour, perfectly planted shrubs and flowers or stunning artwork and memorials within the grounds. ~~~~ Inside Battery ~~~~ The park is a sprawling mass of green only broken by the sweeping pathways curving through it's twenty five acres of flora, a stark contrast to the concrete metropolis of it's northern perimeter. The park also offers a full length promenade, providing spectacular views across the harbour to Statten, Ellis, Governors and Liberty islands and of course a glimpse of Lady Liberty herself. This southern tip of Manhattan has long been referred to as Battery with a history dating back to the native Americans and early Dutch settlers. Named after the artillery batteries that were positioned around the shore as a form of defence, Battery is considered to be the birth place of Manhattan. The oldest park on the island is now a beautifully landscaped recreation facility serving tourists who visit with a gateway to the harbour's iconic landmarks of Liberty and Ellis Island, resident New Yorkers respite from the bustling city and a home for an abundance of wildlife, in particular sociable squirrels, adept at bin raiding or eating treats from your hand!. It never ceases to amaze me how tranquil city parks are and Battery is no exception. It's easy to forget you're in the heart of one of the busiest financial districts in the world as the background din of traffic carried from the FDR (Franklin D Roosevelt Drive) on the east and continual tooting of car horns and whirring of sirens are quickly forgotten. A reminder of your location only when an upward glance provides peeks through the trees of the concrete and steel structures that majestically tower above. Battery is not as big or diverse as Central Park but is equally as beautiful and interesting and no where near as daunting or confusing to navigate. ~ Castle Clinton ~ It's ironic that a building originally constructed to prohibit entry now annually permits in excess of three million tourists to enter it's structure. One of Manhattan's only remaining forts, once referred to as Castle Gardens is recognised as a national monument of historical importance and has undergone extensive restoration to restore it's original integrity. I don't think it's the grandest of buildings but it's lack-luster, masculine appearance is lifted by some nice architectural brick detailing, evidence that even two hundred years ago when the fort was built, designers wanted the structure to have a strong purpose and design interest. The one time fortification has assumed numerous roles over the years including an immigration processing centre (pre Ellis Island), entertainment complex, music hall and aquarium. Today Castle Clinton has shifted it's purpose once again, serving tourists as a rather splendid and unusual ticket office for harbour tours to both Ellis and Liberty islands and harbour cruises which depart from the ferry terminal just ahead along the promenade. The fort is usually teaming with tourists, particularly peak season but I've yet to see it too over crowded due to the large area it consumes. My one gripe with the site is it does seem to lack historical references I would expect to find on signage dotted around a building with such historical significance. ~ Exhibitions Of Art ~ When it comes to artistic displays I think Battery offers more per square acre than Central Park. If you've an appreciation of art and history then you won't be disappointed by displays as you traverse through the park. Following the pathways or strolling along the promenade will provide numerous points of interest. Traditional bronze statues and ornate stone memorials providing a focal point for reflection and sit in contrast to the more abstract creations with a modern influence. There's a plethora of art exhibited throughout the park, some pieces fairly obvious with others requiring more an eager eye to spot but most acknowledging public, heroic and historic figures. You'll find a dedication of some description to almost every war America has been involved in but also a selection of more unusual pieces that include giant sized musical instruments whilst other art can be sought by inspecting the less obvious areas such as decorative handrails or along the promenade benches where sculpted life size figures gaze permanently across the harbour. Bronze and marble statues dedicated to early immigrants, war veterans and the like are exhibits that can be freely enjoyed by all but one sits unobtrusively near the park entrance by Bowling Green station and has more relevance to visitors today than any of the others displayed. Originally only temporarily sited at Battery, the Sphere, a bronze statue that once stood in the plaza of the World Trade Centre as a monument of world peace now resides as a permanent memorial to those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 along with a small dedication plaque and eternal flame. Recovered from the carnage of ground zero damaged but still relatively intact, the Sphere has become a representation of resilience to New Yorkers and although I don't think it's in any way the most amazing piece of art work I've ever viewed, it's peaceful defiance is sobering. A stoic but entertaining bunch are the applause hungry human statues. The highly decorated men and women have a tiresome job of remaining semi motionless and silent for hours on end every day to satisfy the tourists souvenir photographs and all they ask in return is a contribution to their collection box. I was actually amazed at how many selfish visitors failed to contribute even a few loose coins to their funds after a photo opportunity, the statues (who range from robots to the popular Statue Of Liberty) rather graciously but briefly show their annoyance before returning to their motionless poses. For a more traditional souvenir several street artists will happily draw your portrait for a fifteen minute pose and $10-$15 or for a more humorous re-creation of yourself visit the caricature artists for around the same price. ~ Battery Bosque ~ The park was gifted a much deserved rejuvenation in the form of the Battery Bosque (literally translated from Spanish to mean "forest or wooded area"). A three and a half acre area within the park, the bosque incorporates lit pathways and stone seating with a stunning array of trees, shrubs, ferns and ornamental flower borders with a main focal point of the landscaping being a circular ground fountain with thirty five illuminated jets bursting water upwards from beneath the ground, of which you are free to walk/run through, a popular attraction with children! The bosque offers a picnic kiosk and plenty of shaded seating areas with perfectly positioned benches where plants creep over their borders giving the impression that the seating is submerged into the planting area. It's an unassuming area of Battery that blends in perfectly with the rest of it's environment and really is one of the nicest areas to picnic, other than near the waterfront. ~ Nick Knacks And Tasteless Tat ~ There are usually several vendors selling various forms of art works, some more genuine than others. Small stalls are usually dotted around adorning "handmade" gifts with a gallery stall of reasonably priced prints in various sizes of New York scenes of interest and can often be found displaying near Castle Clinton along with the usual souvenir vendors offering much the same merchandise that can be found in every tourist tat shop throughout the city. Alas, for every genuine vendor there will always be an unscrupulous one ceasing the opportunity to exploit the unwitting tourist and the park and many surrounding streets is no exception. Illegal vendors selling tasteless "I've been to ground zero" style souvenirs are easily spotted with quick to construct (and dismantle) tables. Some will claim their "profits" go to charities others will claim their wears are "official". These people exploit tragedy for their own financial gain, selling tasteless, substandard memorabilia and although police have moved most on if you do see them avoid at all costs. ~ Hungry At The Harbour ~ There are usually plenty of hot dog, roasted honey nuts (a warm sugary smell that always reminds me of the city), pretzels and refreshment kiosks once inside the park, conveniently congregated in the more popular areas. For fine dinning there's the stunning Battery Gardens Restaurant with it's waterfront patio easily accessible from State Street just inside the park. To be honest unless you particularly want to make an occasion of it there's no shortage of eateries outside the park a hop, skip and jump away, catering for all tastes and budgets including a couple of fast food chains and restaurant/bars. Church Street offers several shops and eateries as does Broadway so if your eating out, your spoilt for choice. I tend to just have a snack from either the vendors or deli's during the day and eat away from the park for an evening meal. ~ Battery And Beyond ~ For most, myself included a trip to Manhattan wouldn't be complete without a visit to the famous landmarks of Liberty and Ellis Islands and to access both a trip to Battery is essential. The ferry terminal is located a short walk from the Bowling Green entrance, north of the park following the main footpath to Castle Clinton where tickets for the ferry can be purchased, alternatively reserve on-line to avoid ques during high season. Peak season and the promenade can become pretty congested with visitors queueing along the barrier to board the ferries, a wait only lengthened by the stringent security checks (the usual bag searching and the like) before you board. Ferries depart frequently, every twenty minutes or so and there's ample opportunity to visit the Statue of Liberty and the immigration depot, turned museum of Ellis Island. The short ferry crossing provides the chance to photograph the iconic lower Manhattan skyline with beautiful views of the park and harbour but even on a warm day the cool Atlantic breeze can be chilling so I would always take a light item of clothing to cover my arms. The Staten Island ferry service, a main transportation artery for thousands of commuters to and from Manhattan, runs regular foot passenger ferries across the harbour to Staten Island for free and the ferry terminal is located at the far south of the park on Whitehall Street. The journey across the water takes around twenty minutes and is perfect if you want to explore further afield and for tourists like me who just want to ride the ferry for a chance to photograph the skyline from a slightly different angle! If your simply looking to make a round trip without exploring Staten Island you still need to disembark the ferry and re-board at the terminal!. ~~~~ Transportation To Battery ~~~~ Battery park is easily accessed by subway, bus (I have yet to ever use a bus in the city other than an open top tour so can't comment on prices or timetable) and foot. For those who are happy to part with a few extra dollars there is of course the infamous yellow cabs. On my last visit to the city I stayed at a hotel a stones throw from Times Square and akin to walking and exploring I ambled my way to the park in around an hour, my route taking me through Soho and into Tribeca (TRIngle BElow CAnal street), past the world trade centre site from which you are just a five or so minute walk from the park but thanks to the cities grid system navigating a different route is exceptionally simple. Several subways are within a reasonable walking distance including Whitehall and South Street, located to the east of the park at the Staten Island ferry terminal but probably the most central and one I have favoured on my visits is Bowling Green because of it's close proximity to the centre of the park handily located on the parks northern perimeter on Broadway. The subway is a cheap and convenient mode of transportation across the city and if your planning numerous journeys then a Metro Card is your most cost effective option. Metro card can be purchased from numerous outlets including vending machines, subway booths and shops (lookout for the Metrocard stickers or poster in windows). Unlimited travel for a seven day period is around $30 but concessions are available. ~~~~ Final Thoughts ~~~~ Battery is one of my favourite areas of the city. The park is very picturesque, ornate in places but most of all it's clean, tidy and well maintained despite the huge numbers of New Yorkers and visitors who pass through it and it's also a safe environment for children, a testament to the ongoing work of the Battery Conservancy who are committed to the revitalisation and upkeep of the park. Battery is accommodating to large numbers of visitors, young and old with pathways spacious enough for buggies and wheelchairs. Beautiful during the day but equally as stunning early evening. An evening harbour cruise will provide impressive views of the bright lights of the lower Manhattan Skyline and subtle lighting of the Statue Of Liberty. Early evening on the promenade provides picture perfect sunsets across the harbour and a much calmer ambiance to the park and indeed lower Manhattan. The New York weather is seasonally predictable with temperatures reaching an average high of 85 degrees in July and August and prone to high humidity with an average low of around two degrees in November and December and although freezing winds across the harbour make the park less hospitable even on a bitterly cold day Battery is still beautiful, particularly when mists drift across the harbour. A stones throw from several museums, buildings of interest and Wall Street and in close proximity to Battery Park City to the north and the South Street Seaport to the south, a full day exploring the financial district could easily incorporate at least a half day at Battery. New York is a city I hold in high regard, that I have loved since I first visited many years ago so I'm always slightly bias towards it. Battery is just a small bite of the big apple but one worth taking. I honestly can't find a fault with Battery Park and it gets well deserved five stars from me! *This review also appears on Ciao with accompanying photographs*
I've little interest in motors, even driving bores me and cleaning is usually performed under duress, a quick reminder that I really should pay attention to the investment my hubby spent several thousand pounds on when what I really wanted was a new kitchen! On the rare(ish) occasions I bother to clean the car, I always use Diamondbrite, a comprehensive range of professional valeting products. For those whom enjoy Sunday afternoons on the driveway with their beloved transportation this review will probably have you bubbling with excitement. For those like me, who aren't too fussed if their wheels look puddle splashed for a month or so then I present you with a little light reading to ease you into the land of nod (just remember to rate when you awaken!) ---- What Is Diamondbrite ---- Diamondbrite is a two part treatment applied to the exterior of the vehicle and designed to provide a tough, durable, high gloss coating on the paintwork, a protective skin if you like consisting quite simply of a shampoo and Conserver which provides complete protection to the cars exterior. Applied by approved Diamondbrite professional valeters and available for caravans (Caravanbrite) and marine craft (Marinebrite) the treatment, made from refined rock oils has a proven track record for paint protection even being widely used by the aviation industry. Today, most cars (new and used) have had the Diamondbrite coating applied by the dealership, the cost of which is built into the forecourt price. Our Vauxhaul Zafira had the treatment prior to our purchase otherwise you may be/have been offered the treatment at the time of purchase for an additional fee. ---- Why Use Diamondbrite ---- Exposure to the elements will always have a detrimental effect on the paintwork of a vehicle regardless of the paint finish be it matt, acrylic or enamel etc. Car paintwork is susceptible to a barrage of natural and man made vandalism. Pollutants will eventually tarnish, stain and fade the paint and ultimately compromise the exterior of the car. The sun, bird droppings, tree sap, road salts, bird poop and suicidal bugs and insects amongst other toxins subject the car on a daily basis, all of which are unavoidable. It's inevitable that metal will eventually erode but it can be protected, extending the life of the paintwork and metal as well as hopefully helping to retain some of the cars re-sale value. ---- What's In The Bag ---- I'm not reviewing the approved application but the Premium Plus Aftercare Pack and it's worth pointing out here that the kit is not exclusively for those who's vehicles have undergone the approved Diamondbrite treatment although the products are designed to maintain the Diamondbrite coating. Personally, I feel if you can't afford, don't want or are not sure if your car has been treated it is still worth buying the products as you will achieve the same results at a fraction of the cost of the professional application (which incidentally costs upwards of £200, dependant on car size) so long as your willing to dedicate a few hours and some elbow grease to apply the initial application. This pack, really just a sampler or introduction to their more competitively priced larger counterparts comprises of eight separate products that includes 250ml shampoo, 250ml Conserver, 250ml Rainscreen, 500ml alloy wheel cleaner, 500ml glass cleaner, 500ml upholstery cleaner, micro fibre cloth and a jumbo sized sponge all of which arrive in a handy waterproof boot holdall complete with three compartments one of which is the main chamber, adequate enough in size to hold litre bottles of the mentioned products. The holdall also contains various zip compartments and has two handy strips of Velcro sewn into the underside to hold it in place in the boot. ---- They All Have A Part To Play ---- Diamondbrite Shampoo: Made from a combination of vegetable oils, Diamondbrite's shampoo is high foaming with a concentrated formula that looks and smells similar to washing up liquid, strong enough to cut through stubborn grime on the bodywork, chrome and glass. One cap full per bucket of water is all I generally use, although Diamondbrite recommend that dried on mud and particles be removed first to prevent the scratching of paint whilst washing. I find the shampoo to be very effective at removing most dirt without too much effort, particularly on glass where there's generally a substantial congregation of the remnants of suicidal bugs, moth and flies who's dead bodies have a knack of welding themselves onto the glass. This first stage of the two part application is far more effective than any standard car shampoo I've used in the past and once rinsed, the car only requires drying with a cloth although if left to air dry there are few water streaks. For the first application of the Diamondbrite treatment the shampoo needs to be followed by an application of Conserver however, subsequent washes followed by a quick buff of the paintwork is sufficient to provide a glossy, waxed appearance. Diamondbrite Conserver: The second phase of the two part application that yields the most noticeable results. Recommended use is two cap full per bucket of water, I've found halving the quantities sufficient to coat our entire car although Conserver can also be used neat to eliminate minor scratches due to it's mild abrasive nature. Non foaming, Conserver is thick with a gloopy consistency that creates an oily film when in contact and mixed with water. The body is sponged with the solution, rinsed and buffed leaving a protective gloss coating however I tend to skip the rinse, concentrating application to small areas at a time which I then simply buff until all of the solution is dried. It saves time and I feel you get a far superior finish. The entire process takes me around forty minutes to an hour and a half to apply. Confirmation of the effectiveness of Conserver can be found not just in the glossy appearance of the vehicle but also by running fingers over scratches which should now feel smooth where the Conserver has dried to a hard coating that prevents further exposure to the elements. This stage warrants your efforts as, correctly applied, Conserver will protect the paint and provide a polished appearance that repels water, causing rain and splashes to collect and bead rather than run which eliminates streaks. I've found that once applied, dirt can be washed from the surface with greater ease and particles of dust seemed to be repelled. Application of Con server also means you won't need to polish or wax the car ever again and subsequent applications only need to be applied once a month (or so!) regardless of how often you decide to wash your car. The downside to Conserver is the pungent smell that's not dissimilar to Brasso. Rainscreen: The science behind Rainscreen is quite simple. Rainscreen causes water to bead, creating droplets that aerodynamically clear from the windscreen, improving visibility, particularly in adverse weather as water can't gather and dribble between blade wipes. I've found that wipers tend to cause less smearing and streaking and although dubious about the product when I first applied, during heavy downpours it does repel vast amounts of rain from the windscreen a lot quicker than the blades can remove it. It's an effective product that's simply applied by dabbing a pea sized amount of solution directly to a cloth and then rubbed across the glass, a process of no more than five minutes per window, however too much product or too little wiping and what can appear to be a perfect application quickly turns into a greasy mess which is noticeable when sunlight catches the glass, highlighting smears. I generally only ever apply Rainscreen during the winter months and so my original bottle is still going strong some three years later! Alloy Wheel Cleaner: Suitable for steel and plastic Alloy's, the cleaner has been developed to cut through grime build ups caused by traffic film, road salts and brake dust. Two to three sprays per alloy is enough to break down stubborn, ground in dirt. I've found the cleaner to be most effective when the wheels have been subjected to a quick shampoo to remove dried mud and dirt clumps after which I simply leave the solution to settle for a few minutes to allow it to breakdown the finer dirt particles before rinsing off which is generally sufficient to clear the dirt although occasionally I have been required to use a brush to clean into the harder reached areas. I'm not going to elaborate on the finer details of the micro fibre cloth or sponge as both are self explanatory. Approved or not I personally see no added benefits of using these two items in comparison with cheaper supermarket versions that can be brought at a fraction of the cost of Diamondbrite's when needing replacing and the same sentiments apply to the glass cleaner and aerosol upholstery cleaner, both of which I feel fare no better than any other brand although the glass cleaner does seem to smear less. ---- Pricing And Purchasing ---- I would suggest that you buy directly from the Diamondbrite website as the price we paid at our Vauxhaul dealership for this pack was priced substantially higher than buying direct. This pack currently retails at £50.81 (inc VAT) if purchased directly from Jeweletta, not including the standard delivery charge which was a hefty £7.20, although this fee remains the same no matter how many subsequent items you buy and with my last purchase I also revieved a couple of free gifts. To buy the items individually would cost £47.99 (excluding the holdall) but replacements can be obtained in the form of larger sizes and multi buys, far more cost effective. Jeweletta's website is a Mecca to valet products, simple and easy to navigate with products clearly catagorised in a methodical manor and is open to anyone, so not exclusive to just those working in the car industry. Items can be purchased using most major credit and debit cards and the delivery time was just two days. ---- For Those Still Awake....Quick Final Thoughts! ---- The initial outlay may seem a little pricey for a cleaning kit but in fact it is excellent value, especially considering the results achieved from using the products but to buy the kit and apply yourself is a substantial saving to that of the cost of the professional application. The shampoo and Conserver bottles from the kit lasted me a good eighteen months although a more realistic timescale would be in the region of six to twelve, assuming that you apply at least once a month. The application is easy, if not a little time consuming, the main reason if I'm honest I don't clean the car as much as I should. The products are water repellent and so quite a lot of dirty water does tend to run straight off the bodywork which makes subsequent cleans a little easier, sometimes just a hose down and a quick wipe is all that's needed rather than a full on application. Our car has been subjected to the usual vandalism of key scratches, some of the minor ones have faded after several applications whilst a couple of deeper scratches, although still visible have been significantly reduced and at least protected by the Conserver coating although permanent removal unfortunately would have to be a re-spray but at least I'm confident they won't rust. Asked if I would recommend and I would have to answer yes even though I don't use the product half as much as I probably should. Five stars from me! www.diamondbriteshop.co.uk Product Reference: PPLUS4 (Premium Plus Aftercare Pack) ---- Replacements ---- 1litre shampoo & 1litre conserver duo saver pack £26.77 Shampoo & Conserver Saver pack 2: 5litre shampoo & 1litre conserver £42.18 Alloy Wheel Cleaner: 500ml £6.73 / 5litre £47.10 Rainscreen: 250ml: £7.80 Spirit Glass Cleaner: 500ml £4.78 / 5litre £39.30
Why My Mischievous Hair Needs Taming.... My hair, a complex shoulder length bouffant I battle with daily to tame. Whilst everyone strives to pump up the volume of their tresses I want the opposite. My hair is thick, naturally curly and voluminous. Left unattended, unmanageable. I submit my locks to a daily workout of heat styling to eliminate any trace of body and occasionally I colour it. Left unprotected my hair becomes coarse and dry. I undertake a religious six week sabbatical to my hairdresser to thin my mop and remove dry, split ends and keep my tresses in tip top condition. For years I deluded myself I could achieve straight hair, now I would be content winning the war on frizz, the worst of all hair conditions persistently inflicting misery on my hair during damp weather and humidity. Even central heating causes my hair to frizz and throughout the course of the day my barnet slowly defies gravity providing the (less sought after do) of a motor cycle helmet, an unflattering look only enhanced if I wear sun glasses that double as a tinted visor (for those giggling at my misery...shame on you!). So whilst my hair could offer my skull full protection from hurtling debris it's not the look I want so I need products that prevent damage from heat and stave off the atmospheric nuisance of frizz. On face value, John Frieda's 3 Day Straight seemed to have the potential to be my new hair saviour. What Is 3 Day Straight..... The Solution: An opaque, thin, liquid solution with a soft, silky consistency that, when in direct contact with the skin provides a feeling not dissimilar to the slightly slimy sensation you would encounter if you were to dip your hand into water mixed with washing detergent that leaves a slightly tacky/sticky patch on the skin once dried (I generally spray a tester on my skin first to determine if I will have an allergic reaction as some products I have used in the past have caused irritation which led to persistent head scratching and a sore scalp!). Scent: A gentle fragrance reminiscent of a delicate, almost floral perfume is noticeable with a slightly sweet (but not sickly) aroma. It's actually pleasant without being over powering or pungent and a welcome change to the intoxicating and cloying toxic smells favoured in other products of this ilk. Clinging to the hair for a few hours after application, the solution left my hair smelling fresh and fragrant in much the same way as a higher scented shampoo and/or conditioner would. It's Purpose: Designed to protect each individual hair strand from the intensive heat of straighteners, 3 Day Straight also acts as a relaxer by coating and smoothing the hair cuticle which in turn "should" reduce frizz as well as claiming to leave hair soft and tangle free but ultimately without being weighed down by product residue. A semi permanent spray solution that's suitable for use on coloured and chemically treated hair one of the main ingredients is Keratin, a protein found naturally in nails and hair. This new addition to the John Frieda Frizz Ease collection has been hailed a leader in the battle against frizz. The Inspiration?: I think John Frieda's inspiration for this product comes from popular treatments such as keratin wraps and Brazilian Blow-drys/Blowouts, the new "must have" salon treatments that effectively eliminate frizz and leave hair straight for up to three months. Time consuming and expensive, the Keratin treatments can cost upwards of £75.00 depending on hair length and type but are largely considered to be the best solution for those who crave straight hair. On face value John Frieda's offering claims to provide most of the attributes of it's professional alternatives although I was not naive enough to believe that even on a temporary basis it could ever be as effective. Protecting hair from heat whilst claiming to leave hair conditioned and shiny but above all weightless for a fraction of the cost of the salon alternatives, the compromise being it claims to last for just three days (or until you next wash your hair) as opposed to several months and much as I'm no fan of John Frieda products I decided it was at least worth a try. Spray Away For A Frizz Free Day (or 3). The Application..... The treatment needs to be applied to clean, towel dried hair and no great surprise is recommended to be used in conjunction with John Frieda shampoo and conditioner (advice I did not heed, opting for my preferred brand unconvinced that my results would be any more effective using John Frieda's reccomendation). I shampooed and conditioned my hair as normal before I attempted application as per instructions. Depending on hair type and length, up to fifteen spritzes maybe required to ensure an even application as the solution needs to be applied from root to tip. The slim design of the bottle allows an easy grip and access to the nozzle which, although fairly rudimentary in construction and will easily break if too much pressure is applied does effectively dispense the liquid contents vigorously onto the hair. I found it best applied at arms length to ensure an even coverage, a process made easier when I tipped my head upside down, allowing access to the underside of my hair with relative ease. My hair is mid length and thick so I did needed to apply a substantial amount of liquid, around fifteen spritzes but if your hair is longer I have no doubt more would be required. Satisfied my hair was coated I simply combed the product from root to tip to ensure an even distribution and was free to style my hair as normal. My towel dried hair was almost instantaneously tangle free and any small knots were easily combed through without any pain but my hair, still slightly damp felt sticky but I gave the product the benefit of the doubt and styled as normal. I first blow dried (in small sections ensuring the nozzle of my dryer was pointing down the hair shaft to assist the product in smoothing the cuticles as well as ensuring my dryer was not set to maximum heat which only aggravates my frizz). The first thing apparent was my hair took considerably longer to dry (almost fifteen minutes) and looked lack lustre and felt coarse, not the soft, conditioned mane I was expecting although both look and feel improved slightly once I began to straighten my hair. Sleek And Chic Or Poodle Puff.....My Results! Using my straighteners, I only attempted small sections at a time pulling the irons through my hair only to find that I needed to repeat the process several times before my hair began to settle down, thus the entire process not only took considerably longer but also substantially increased the chances of heat damage. My straighteners never glided smoothly through my hair as the sticky feeling I experienced whilst my hair was wet was still there and worse still the lengths of the plates on my straigheners had evidence of a residue build up. To be fair, my first application was applied when my hair was days away from an appointment with my hairdresser, at it's thickest and most stubborn but subsequent applications fared no better. A little less product, slightly damper hair, slightly dryer hair, I tried every possible scenario and each time the results were the same. My hair both looked and felt in worse condition than ever and worse still within half an hour or so of application and styling my hair was puffy, no slight kinks or waves, actual frizz which only added to my irritation of the product not to mention yet more time to style as I had to periodically keep re-straightening to regain any kind of order to the top of my head. I was lucky to get a couple of hours of straight hair let alone three days. I'm no fan of the John Frieda collection and 3 Day Straight has done nothing to convince me to buy into the range. In fact it embodies all the usual traits I despise about the brand. Sticky styled hair, dull and lifeless appearance and dry texture seem to be a trend of the collection if the previous products I've sampled are anything to go by. My Final Verdict: Poodle Puff! Buy Or Bypass..... Available from most high street stores and on-line retailers, 3 Day Straight is only available in a tiny 100ml pump spray bottle, a meagre size for a hair product that will lighten the purse by around £7.00 or so depending on where you purchase, particularly if you have longer hair or thick hair that will require more product. The product lasted me a little under a fortnight (used daily) and if my maths serves me correctly then in a three month period of using I would have spent half, if not more of the money required for a more effective salon treatment. For me, the contents diminished fairly quickly and (reluctantly) the application was a daily chore. It's over packaged. Omitting the unnecessary cardboard box would almost certainly reduce the price by a few pence but above anything else, it just failed to perform for me in every way it should have. Infact the only positives I can muster is the spray is non aerosol and both the box and bottle are recyclable. A pitiful one star. My Advice: Walk on by!!!
Christmas (2009) my hubby brought me the Olympus SP-570 UZ. At the time of purchase the Olympus cost in the region of £250-£300 (I was never privy to the exact cost), far more than I had ever considered paying for a digital camera in the past and I did question the need for such a pricey model considering most of my photography had been limited in recent years to family snaps, holidays and excursions and I would never class myself as anything more than a happy snapper or novice photographer. The list of features pertaining to the Olympus is too big to list everything individually so for this review I have chosen to focus mainly on the functions I regularly use. The camera came complete with a CD instruction manual, lens cap, adjustable carry strap, USB cable, video cable, 1GB XD picture card (holding up to 402 pictures at 10 mega-pixel, 789 at 5 mega-pixels and 1184 at 3 mega-pixels), photographic software and four AA batteries required for power. First impressions and the Olympus looked smart, professional and authoritative. I've always been competent with cameras, having studied photography as part of my art course in college but I'm certainly no expert and admittedly felt a little intimidated as this model seemed a massive step up from my pocket sized Nikon Coolpix 5200 (the only other digital camera I have owned). The Olympus, billed as "having the advanced capabilities of a digital SLR with the convenience of a point to shoot" does indeed offer some ambitious features for it's price range but for me, almost outweighing it's capabilities is just how deceptively user friendly the camera is and any concerns I initially had about complicated handling were quashed once I stated using. ---- See It, Hold It, Use It ---- The Olympus is compact measuring 8.5cm wide x 8cm high x 8.5cm deep and surprisingly light weight at just 370grams, feeling more robust and durable as opposed to awkward or cumbersome as I first expected. The black plastic exterior provides a non slip surface making the camera easy to hold and an ergonomic curve to the right side allows the hand a natural clasp providing a comfortable grip which in turn aids stability when shooting although the Olympus does have built in image stabilisation, particularly useful when shooting over long distances and helping to eliminate blur, keeping pictures sharp and in focus. The main external controls, which include an on/off flick lever and mode dial are naturally accessible with right thumb control allowing fluid movement when changing the settings whilst the camera is in use (at least if your right handed it does!). The general feel of the Olympus is one of acute practicality. A lens cap and shoulder strap are optional and take few seconds to fasten to the camera. The picture card just needs to be slotted in to place and batteries installed and the camera is ready to use, booting up in around four seconds. Battery life is also extensive as the camera won't drain batteries after long periods of use. ---- Exploration, Navigation, Familiarisation ---- It's clear from the moment I started using the Olympus that the interface is menu driven and there is a broad spectrum of features to explore. The on screen menu is an area that has been criticised for being cluttered and confusing but my opinion and experience is quite the opposite. Sub menus are clear, concise and above all logical offering a wealth of practical information pertaining to the individually selected features. Brief explanations of the purpose of the settings accompanied with a photographic example provide invaluable information that allows the user a good degree of creative flexibility without prior photographic knowledge or experience with a digital camera and the simplistic interface is universal throughout all of the sub menus. Overall the menu is intuitive and logical and makes light work of the abundance of possible settings. ---- (Some) Main Features ---- Olympus appear to have prepared for every photographic composition possibility with an extensive menu of shooting modes and image editing settings all of which make the task of adjusting the camera to the correct setting a quick and simple procedure. Six function modes located on the external mode dial include automatic (camera sets exposure), programme (user control) and aperture priority (user selects aperture) allowing the user to adjust settings to their own required preferences. Those with less technical know how have the cushion of preset functions by way of the scene and guide menu to fall back on, choosing from a vast list of presets suitable to the composition. The camera has several built in features such as BrightCapture Technology to produce better images in low light situations as well as a comprehensive focus system that includes face detection for optimised focus and smile shot where the camera will automatically snap the picture as soon as it detects the subject smiling and macro settings. ---- My Favourite Features ---- The "guide" and "scene" menus, both located on the mode dial are my settings of choice. Amongst other advanced operations "scene" allows the user to scroll between a selection of composition scenarios such as multiple fireworks, close ups, landscapes and portraits (there are actually 23 photographic scenarios in total), each with an on screen picture accompanied with a brief explanation of their corresponding action. Once your selection has been made the camera automatically adjusts to the selected condition providing control over the desired picture eliminating the need for fussy and confusing programming. Likewise, "guide" provides image effects that include blurred background, shooting into back-light and adjusting image quality. I found the best way to familiarise myself these features was to discard the manual and fumble my way through the menu, opting for the hands on approach rather than scrolling reams of instructions, a far more interesting way to familiarise with the settings! I do however, have a niggle with one of the features. Shooting a subject in motion does not provide the quick responses I would expect resulting with blurred images as the moment has passed by the time the camera reacts and the picture being lost. It's quite disappointing considering how responsive other functions are to implement however, shooting high speed sequential shots (located in the shooting guide) in contrast, does produce fantastic images taking pictures at up to 13.5 frames per second, although at this speed picture quality is slightly compromised at 3 mega-pixels but I still feel this is one of the best options for speed shooting. ---- Elongated Compositions ---- The wide angled lens (26 - 520mm) achieves amazing land and city scapes as well as being perfect for taking pictures of large groups and shooting in panoramic couldn't be easier. In addition to "guide and "scene" this is my only other favoured feature of the camera. In the aperture, shutter, manual or scene modes, Panoramic compositions can be performed in two simple ways. By far the easiest way is "panoramic1". The Olympus will automatically merge three sequential photos. A marked target on the previous picture needs to be aligned but I personally feel that although this method is definitely easier the results are not as crisps as the second option and also three photos is limiting. The second and most effective `option "panoramic2" allows multiple pictures to be snapped, with the possibility of creating a 360 degree image. The downside to this method is the user manually aligns the images on a PC and although you need a keen eye the results are much more rewarding and it's the option I always favour because I feel you can achieve near seamless stills. ---- The Big Screen ---- Advanced features and dial sub menus display on the screen. At 2.7inches the "hyper crystal" LCD is colossal compared to that of my modest Coolpix and thanks to it's size (that consumes almost the entire back of the camera) you get to see clearly the composition in detail before you commit to taking the picture. The screen offers a 230,000 pixel resolution providing sharp, crisp visuals with "true to life" colours whilst the "hyper crystal", not only aids the screen quality but also supposedly eliminates glare from the sun. Whilst the former may be accurate the latter, in my opinion is not. The Olympus suffers the same dreadful light interference as any other electrical equipment when using in bright sunlight which limits the user to some hit and miss snaps as the screen becomes darkened and images disappear meaning you are limited to relying on the viewfinder only, which I tend not to use if I can help it. ---- Life Through A Lens ---- It would be inappropriate not to mention the 20x optical zoom. When the camera was first released for general sale back in 2008 the "20x optical zoom" was a buzz word and unique selling feature, unheard of in cameras of this price bracket and ilk. What's equally impressive as the zoom power however is the quality of the image produced. Where my Nikon only managed a teeny 3x zoom, most with grainy or slightly blurred results the SP-570 UZ is capable of maintaining clear images under this magnification and high quality results. The wide angled lens, controlled automatically via the selected function or a switch located at the base can also be manually turned. Fully extended (6.5cm) the Olympus remains easy to handle. Additional lens filters and lenses including wide angled and macro can be purchased separately to attach to the static lens although I have never bothered as I would never fully utilise as my pictures tend to just be average day to day ones. ---- In Motion ---- I always feel that manufacturers add a video feature to digital cameras as a gimmick and whilst I appreciate that sometimes it's nice to have a motion option my personal preference would be that they either stick to stills or video and don't bother to mix the two. The SP-570 UZ does have a video option which records in AVI format, voice recording in Wave. There's no HD in this feature and images are captured at either fifteen or thirty frames per second (fps), which for those that aren't sure what this means it loosely translates to grainy, fairly low quality images, no where near the supremacy of the stills. As a basic back up, it's ok but nothing to write home about and that's as far as I can comment as I never use the video option. ---- Overall ---- I'm no professional photographer but I have found that I can at least shoot some passable professional appearing photographs. For me, the versatility of this camera far out weights the (at the time of release) phenomenally large zoom. The fact that I can produce some nicely detailed pics not just from a distance but also when shooting close up is a real plus. There's no escaping that to a novice, the Olympus appears daunting although, in use, the Olympus is anything but. It offers all the settings a novice could ever need, covering just about every photographic eventuality and it manages to do this in a way that a first time digital camera user could understand. Personally, I love the Olympus. It's bulky enough to easily handle, light enough for frequent day to day use and technical enough to retain the interest of a more experienced photographer. In the three years the camera has been on the market it's depreciated little but there are still bargains to be had if your prepared to shop around. For around the £250-£280 mark, I maintain this camera is excellent value for money.
I wanted an inexpensive oven to replace our previous one that rather untimely ceased functioning one month before Christmas (2009). With a kitchen in need of updating, I was reluctant to buy an expensive model that may not be suitably integrated into new units and could potentially be rendered redundant within a couple of years. I opted for the Indesit FI31KBIX, costing at the time of purchase around £225.00 from Currys with free home delivery. The oven also came with a two year manufactures warranty, although this seems to vary depending on retailer with most offering a standard twelve months. ---- Dimensions ---- The FI31KBIX is a single cavity fan assisted electric oven with a 56 litre capacity that can be fully integrated into a pre designed shelf unit. Catagorised as medium sized the unit measures 56.7cm high x 55.8cm wide x 54.5cm deep although dimensions of the front panel are slightly larger at 59.5cm high x 59.5cm wide x 54.5cm, figures that appear to be omitted from every website I've seen the appliance advertised and quite important as the panel overlaps the edge of the cabinet that houses the oven creating a means of securing in position. ---- Aesthetics ---- Our oven has a stainless steel exterior which combined with the tinted window offers the appliance a fresh, contemporary appearance. Clean lines and a fuss free exterior provide a stylish, modern finish allowing the oven to fit inconspicuously into any kitchen although alternative exteriors are available in white or black. The Indesit is not high spec as the price would suggest yet it's appearance is of one more expensive that it actually is. In fact the only suggestion to it's low retail are the black function dials which would have been better suited in silver to match the surrounding facade as I think black cheapens the look and the lack of an LED display, digital clock and pre set touch functions. The tinted double glazed window, a smart contrast to the stainless steel consumes the majority of the drop down door allowing a clear view of the contents, saving cooking time as the need to frequently open the door when in use is reduced which in the long run also saves electricity a feature I lacked with my previous oven as the glass was so darkened it was pointless being there at all. Viewing is aided by a 40watt internal light that although situated on the right of the back panel, provides adequate lighting to the entire oven and can be cheaply replaced for around £7.99. The toughened multi layers of glass are heat reflective and can be removed for cleaning and like most ovens, when in use the glass gets hot yet not excessively so but enough to burn if the cooker is set to max. ---- Equipment ---- The oven comes with two standard shelf racks and a generously sized grill tray. There is enough room for an additional rack which can be purchased for around £10.00 from Indesit part stockists. The grill tray itself is particularly useful, in our house mutli functional as it expands the entire width and depth of the oven cavity not just providing ample grilling space (around six average sized slices of bread can be accommodated on it's surface) but can also double as a shallow roasting tray as it is moulded with a ridged edge which provides a 1cm or so deep recess, perfect for collecting excess oils. I usually add a small grill rack (not included) for roasting meat and then just use the remainder of the surface for the potatoes and some vegetables. The oven is currently advertised as containing one telescopic runner for shelving but our model doesn't have this, a shame as I think they make removing items from the shelves easier and safer so I assume this is a new feature added to models manufactured later than mine. ---- Functions & Features ---- The Indesit offers nothing exciting by way of functions although it's basic settings are perfectly adequate for daily family cooking. Three rudimentary manual dials at the top of the oven provide uncomplicated use, just a turn of the dials, basic but effective and particularly useful if you suffer dexterity problems or are not interested in complicated electronic settings. Fan assisted, the oven quickly heats to maximum temperature (around 240 degrees) in approximately ten to fifteen minutes. Integral variable grill settings provide flexibility without the need of a separate unit and can be used standard with the oven door open or with the door closed for fan assistance, arguably the quickest of thetwo options. Alarming with the crude din of a continual bicycle bell the timer is time accurate although the clanging is too faint and doesn't ring for nearly long enough, no more than thirty seconds so if your not in the room you could miss it and the oven won't cut out to compensate. A far from effective mode of alert that borders useless. For around an hour or so after the oven has been turned off the fan assisted cooling will kick in. The dull whirring in the background, although not loud is annoying and to avoid I tend to switch the appliance off at the mains. There is also a defrost mode, I won't bother to comment as I have never used. The thought of wasting electric to defrost an item is in my book wasteful, particularly if it can be defrosted in a couple of hours without assistance. ---- Installation ---- The unit requires a gap of approximately 4cm between the back of the oven and the wall for ventilation and the panels that form the cavity to which the oven will be positioned must be heat resistant with glues used during the assembly able to withstand temperatures up to 100 degrees C, something I imagine most kitchens units comply with but worth mentioning in case you build your own unit. Installation was performed by myself and hubby and was incredibly easy although awkward due to the overall weight which is a hefty eighty or so kilograms un-boxed. Lifting and moving was a definite two person job as the sheer bulk creates a dead weight and cumbersome to maneuver into position, particularly in limited space. Personally, I think if you've the capabilities to move yourself then avoid home installation charges as lifting, placing and securing is a reasonably quick procedure (around twenty minutes) in spite of the weight and once secured in position (by means of two screws (included) to each vertical side panels) there's no programming or set up other than to plug into mains electric with a 2.4KW (13amp) connection, unless, of course you prefer the unit hard wired. ---- Performance ---- The large capacity means the oven is perfectly suited to cooking large quantities at one time, easily accommodating the meat and vegetables for a family roast with plenty of space to spare, a larger turkey for Christmas and the like and thanks to the five height adjustments for the shelving, large stock pots and trays can also be fitted with ease. I have noticed the fan assistance does speed the cooking processes such as roasting and works equally as well on low temperatures,. I don't have a slow cooker so stews and curries are cooked large oven safe stock pans for around 4 hours at 100 degrees or slightly under (depending on the menu) and it gently cooks to perfection without over boiling or using too much electricity and keeping the heat circulating for even cooking. Fan assisted cooling also kicks in when the oven is in use, controlling the internal temperature by forcing warm air through the ventilation grate above the door, which on high temperatures can cause the kitchen to become very warm, as too can the function dials although thankfully not so hot that you can't touch them. Grilling has two options. Either standard with the door open or fan assisted with door closed, the latter being my preference however, both have the same downsides. The temperature can be controlled by the manual dial but seems to only be effective if set to maximum, anything less and it doesn't work well. The grill also fails to disperse heat evenly because the elements do not expand the entire width of the roof of the oven. The result is any items on the outer width of the grill tray take longer to cook resulting in constantly moving food around to ensure it all cooks at the same time. A frustrating procedure, particularly when grilling multiple items or catering for larger gatherings. The grill is effective (to the areas it reaches) just restricted. ---- Efficiency ---- It's really the only major downside to the Indesit but even then it's not a huge problem. With an energy rating of B the indesit is not the most efficient of ovens but in it's defense it doesn't fall too short of the A rated alternatives using 0.85KWH. I cook daily so the oven can be in use for up to two hours a day everyday and after some rough calculations I estimate my running costs are in the region of around £100.00 or there abouts annualy. It's hard to provide the accurate figure I would have liked but my cooking varies depending on meals, climate and whats in season so I have simply provided a rough estimate based on last years usage. ---- Maintenance ---- The internal chamber is coated with an easy clean enamel that, so long as you don't allow too much grime to build up, cleaning can be limited to a soapy cloth, anything more stubborn requires oven cleaner. The side panels and back are easily accessible and cleaned however, like all ovens attempting to clean the roof and around the heat elements is a near impossible task and so it's inevitable that grease collects there. I get round this problem by refraining from sticking my head in the oven and directing my sight upwards! out of sight, out of mind! I use oven cleaner once a month to remove blackened heat stains from shelves and the grill tray has a good wipe clean coating so very easy to clean although showing a little wear now to the colouring but that's all. The stainless steel front is a magnet for small children's paw prints, that permanently mark if not cleared quickly enough, a tiresome task. The glass window is easily removed, however I have only needed to do this on one occasion as it can handle a scourer without having a detrimental effect. In all, cleaning in no more or less complicated than any other oven. ---- Overall ---- As a hasty replacement for our old oven, I wasn't bias to any one particular brand or model only size and delivery schedule. I have to confess that when we do finally replace our dilapidated kitchen the Indest will be re-homed into the new units as I have been impressed with it's ability and performance. Suffice to say, I'm surprised at just how good this oven is, providing a regular and reliable service for the past eighteen months and I see no reason why it won't continue and apart from a couple of niggles it does the job and it does it well. There's no child safety lock but these can be picked up fairly cheaply and although the window does retain most of the heat in the oven the glass would still be too hot for a child to touch so the usual caution must be applied when in use. If you looking for a high spec model that has every conceivable setting pre programmed on a touch screen this is not the model for you. If your looking for a smart, functional oven that provides loyal service for under £250.00 then, in my opinion you cant go wrong. There are price fluctuations, so it's best to shop around for the best deal. One star has been dropped for the niggles but apart from that a thoroughly good buy!
Since reaping the benefits of Olay's Thermal Skin Polisher and 3 Point treatment Cream, two products I happily converted to a few months ago, I decided to place some more of my faith into the Olay brand purchasing their Micro-Dermabrasion & Mini-Peeling Kit, a high street alternative to two popular but expensive clinical treatments. Purchased from Boots for £25.99 the kit is not cheap, especially considering usage is limited to around fifteen or so applications although from time to time Boots run a three for two promotion across Olay's entire range so savings can be found if you coincide your purchase with their offers but if your prepared to shop around there are more competitive prices to be found at Superdrug and on Amazon and Ebay. Scratching The Surface And Peeling Back The Years....What Are Micro Dermabrasion And Mini Peels? Micro-derm-abrasion or small-skin-exfoliation is a form of facial exfoliation using crystals to deep clean the pores to effectively remove dead skin cells and rejuvenate dull skin. The procedure is generally performed in salons and clinics and regarded as an effective treatment to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, blemish marks and acne scaring as well as evening skin pigmentation and skin texture. Mini Peels have become increasingly popular with varying degrees of results depending on the strength of the solution used. They are recognised for reducing the appearance of fine lines, evening the skin tone and tightening and firming the skin. Olay's peel activator apparently stimulates collagen and elastin production in the skin as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines. Loving The Skin Your In?....Why I Decided To Purchase The Kit It's only in recent years I have adopted a more mature approach to skin care, disciplining myself to implement a regimental skin care regime. For the most, I'm fairly comfortable with my skins condition but it's far from perfect and I'm fully aware my biggest concerns are self inflicted. I'm a smoker, which has a detrimental effect on my skin, accelerating the signs of aging. I'm fairly certain the crows feet around my eyes and fine lines on my forehead have been exaggerated because of my nicotine addiction and not just age alone. I've always suffered sensitive skin, one minute it's dry the next I have oil breakouts but it's enlarged pores that cause me the most concern as my blemish marks are superficial and can be concealed by make up, where as enlarged pores generally appear more prominent. I was intrigued by Olay's claim that this kit could take me one step closer to healthier looking skin. Certainly the pigmentation on my cheeks could do with attention and the texture of my skin wasn't as smooth as it could be before I began using. The Whole Kit And Caboodle.... The kit contains two separate products, part of Olay's Regenerist range, instantly recognisable thanks to the black and red packaging, universal throughout this collection. Both products are encased in a plastic insert into the cardboard box which, although small, is still, in my opinion slightly over packaged but at least fully recyclable and the contents are easy to remove and access. The first product is a 50ml screw top jar of the dermabrasion solution. A bright orange substance with the consistency of a part set jelly densely peppered with thousands of tiny bicarbonate crystals that offer a coarse contrast to the silky smooth gel to which they're contained. A scent reminiscent of tart oranges is noticeable when first opening the jar, although not pungent, a subtle hint that dissolves as soon as it comes into contact with the skin, a welcome relief as I'm not partial to scented products on my face. The second product is a 59ml tube of the mini peel activator. A translucent, odourless, serum dispensed from a flip top jar that is applied on top of the crystals and then massaged onto the skin. Use Me, Don't Abuse Me.... The derma kit is suitable for those with sensitive skin, like myself although the application process is not as mild as your average facial wash and first time users may be discouraged by the fairly invasive nature of the treatment so I don't think it suitable if you suffer excessively dry or sensitive skin and I definitely wouldn't use if if I have any cuts. Olay recommend that the product be used twice weekly as part of a regular skin care regime but not in conjunction with other skin scrubs on the day of use. As a word of caution I would suggest you only attempt the treatment at night to allow your skin to recuperate whilst you sleep and also because immediately after using your skin maybe left quite blotchy. After using, the skin on my cheeks is generally a little discoloured and quite red as a result of the scrubbing. The Application Process....Step One-Scratching The Surface The crystals are the first phase of the treatment and need to be applied to a clean, dry face, a slightly odd feeling if you use scrubs on a regularly especially as scrubs I've used in the past require application to damp skin. One teaspoon equivalent is all that's required per application, just as well as I'm not convinced I could stomach scrubbing my face with a larger amount. Rubbing the crystals in a circular motion (avoiding the delicate under eye area) for one minute is sufficient for each treatment and I tend to concentrate a little longer on problematic areas around the apples of my cheeks where I suffer enlarged pores and superficial blemish marks. The sensation of coarse crystals on dry skin is not the most pleasant and the jelly substance contributes no moisture so the process is quite scratchy and dry. Application is best described as mildly uncomfortable as the crystals exfoliate the surface of the skin. It's a feeling that takes a couple of applications to acclimatise to and even then I still couldn't say I particularly look forward to the process but that said it doesn't cause irritation or leave my skin over sensitive. The Application Process....Step Two-Take The Rough With The Smooth Again, around a teaspoon full of solution is required and is easily dispensed although the jar is not transparent and so it's easy to over pour the contents and use a little too much. I'm almost certain that my jar will run out a few applications before the crystals. The activator needs to be evenly dispersed over the face on top of the crystals and massaged into the skin for a further minute. The non stinging, light weight solution offers a welcome relief from the dry crystals in the form of a soft, light weight, creamy foam, much the same as a standard facial wash but minus the froth. The activator seems to breakdown the crystals causing some to disintegrate and is gentle on the skin and easily massaged thanks to it's silky consistency. It's upon application of the activator that I could first feel there was a notable difference to the texture of my skin which now felt almost perfectly smooth. Rinsing with warm water and pat drying the treatment is finished. A process that takes no more than three minutes or so. On The Face Of It....My Results I have to be honest I was sceptical about how efficient this product would be and I'm not naive enough to believe that a high street treatment could ever be as effective as a clinic alternative but I have been fairly happy with the results I have achieved so far although results have been less than amazing. I have persevered with the kit twice weekly for almost five weeks now in conjunction with Olay's Thermal Skin Polisher and 3 Point Treatment Cream so it's possible that a combination of the products has contributed to the improvement of the condition of my skin as opposed to just this product alone. After the first use there was a dramatic improvement to the texture of my skin and with subsequent uses on a regular basis the product has helped to retain an all over even appearance to my skins texture. My skin is always incredibly soft and feels hydrated after using although the smooth appearance is temporary, lasting just a couple of days at most. My complexion has now become significantly brighter. The whole process, although uncomfortable does not leave my skin sensitive or sore, quite the opposite. My pores have been dramatically minimised, one aspect that I'm most impressed with, however these are all results I was already experiencing with daily use of Olay's skin polisher although this kit seems to have accelerated the results. Other aspects such as evening my skin tone, removing light blemish marks and reducing the appearance of fine lines has been disappointing. Whilst the surface of my skin is now toned the marks and fine lines are still visible and don't appear to be any less defined than when I began using. To Buy or Not Buy....That Is The Question Overall I would recommend Olay's Dermabrasion and Mini Peel Kit. It does provide some pretty good results although it's no miracle cure. These treatments are designed to be progressive and not aggressive but if Olay's derma kit can't remove light blemishes I doubt it could be used as an effective treatment against stubborn ones so I don't think it will be suitable for those with more serious scarring. The results I have achieved have made the product, for me, a worth while buy but not at £25.00. The price could be justified if Olay were to include a finishing cream or perhaps even the option of a small resurfacing tool like other kits include. It's clear that to maintain the results I will need to continue to use regularly and I'm not sure I can justify the purchase of such a costly product if I can't guarantee I will fully experience all the advertised benefits. On the whole I have been reasonably impressed with the kit although I have reservations regarding the long term effects the fairly invasive procedures can have on the skin. I feel Olay's derma kit is little more than an over priced facial scrub, all be it a good one that delivers good results but not good enough for the price. Overall I have awarded three stars, dropping two stars because the price is too high.