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since 30/11/-0001


Holiday Inn Newport 29/08/2006

Student dorms at hotel prices

Holiday Inn Newport As we were going to spend our bank holiday weekend following Alice Cooper around the Celtic Manor golf course at the All Star Cup 2006 in Newport, South Wales, we needed to arrange for some accommodation nearby. After some debating about whether we should indeed stay in Newport or in Cardiff instead, we came across the Holiday Inn in Newport, which was described as being just opposite the venue. We were even more thrilled to hear that the prices were fairly reasonable and that the hotel allowed for late check-in, As I am a worrier by nature, I called up the hotel several times the week before our arrival to ensure that our room would not be given away if we checked in after 11 pm. I was assured that they would keep it at least until 2 am in the morning, which left we relaxed and reassured that I would be resting my head on a nice pillow upon arrival. ***Our experience*** *Arrival* The hotel is very easy to find, simply get off the M4 motorway at junction 24, follow directions to the B4237 and less than two minutes from exiting the motorway will you be able to see the large green Holiday Inn sign. It has a massive car park - and the setting look very peaceful and inviting - until I looked at some of the windows of the guestrooms from the outside and realised that this place certainly has not been renovated recently. As we entered the hotel, an instant smell of smoke enveloped us, not too strong, yet present, coming clearly from the hotel bar, which is adjacent ...

Sarastro Restaurant, London 24/08/2006

An operatic tragedy

Sarastro Restaurant, London Back In January, one of my fiancé's colleagues recommended Sarastro to us as a nice restaurant for our anniversary. He said that Sarastro boasted both a romantic atmosphere and a vast selection of delicious seafood on its menu. As we approached the establishment, however, which is located just off Covent Garden in Drury Lane, we started to have our doubts. It looked a little bit too hidden. While the menu looked alright, a peak inside through the glass doors have us the impression that it was a little to "kitsch" for our liking. We walked away without entering and went elsewhere. A couple of weeks ago, however, we were in the mood for some adventure and decided to give it a try. How we wish we had followed our first instincts! ***The history*** The restaurant was opened in 1996. It was created and designed by artist and international designer Richard "Salim" Sleeman who was responsible for creating a Turkish bath and art gallery in Southern Spain. It was his idea to place contemporary items and period art all around the restaurant to give it a unique and flamboyant feel. Sarastro was named after one of the characters of Mozart's "The Magic Flute". ***Ambience and décor*** The restaurant looked a lot more inviting from the outside in the summer than it did during the grey winter months. Sarastro is decorated with lovely colourful flowers on the outside, giving it a spring-type and refreshing feel. We approached and entered the restaurant without actually ...

Toronto, Canada (YYZ) 06/08/2006

One of the worst airports in the world

Toronto, Canada (YYZ) If you are planning a trip to Toronto, you will encounter Toronto Pearson International Airport, also known as Lester B. Pearson International Airport or YYZ. The airport now consists of three terminals. Established in 1939, this airport is located approximately 20 miles from downtown Toronto and is ranked at number 28 amongst the world's busiest airports, handling nearly 30 million passengers in 2005. But is the airport really equipped to please all these travellers? ***Arrival and immigration *** Travelling with British Airways means that you will be arriving at and departing from Terminal 3, which was built in 1989 to offset traffic from Terminals 1 and 2. As you disembark from your airplane, you will be asked to have your passports ready for inspection, as immigration officers will meet you at the end of the gangway before entering the terminal. We found the process to be very slow, as immigration officials are quite thorough in their approach, often pulling passengers aside for further questioning. While I was let through quite swiftly, my fiancé was questioned in detail about how long he was intending to stay, how many bags he was bringing into the country, where he was staying and what his profession was. These questions can be somewhat overwhelming when you are just stepping off the plane - and are especially intrusive if you are in dire need to visit the washroom after a lengthy flight. Although thorough security is to be welcomed, the initial ...

The Pickle Barrel, Toronto 30/07/2006

What's in a name?

The Pickle Barrel, Toronto The Pickle Barrel was never really a place that appealed to me, simply because its name does not exactly convey the most enticing foods imaginable. Even though it is widely advertised in Canada, I never once set foot across their doors. On our recent visit to Toronto, however, it was my fiancé who became instantly intrigued with the place - and for days and days he kept suggesting that we should pay the branch located in the Atrium at Yonge Street and Dundas Street a visit. I was still not convinced, especially when one of my friends commented that the place served "plates full of meat" and "huge portions". But who am I to refuse those gorgeous blue eyes a wish? ***Ambience and décor*** The branch we visited is rightly termed the Pickle Barrel Grand - as it stretches across two floors of the Atrium. Diners can access the restaurant either from Yonge Street or by using the tunnels of Toronto's underground city. We happened to enter from Yonge Street and were instantly greeted by a hostess, who was more than happy to let us peak at the menu before we made a decision to ask for a table and give the food a try. The ambience at the Pickle Barrel Grand differs a lot depending on whether you are seated upstairs or downstairs. On our first visit we were seated upstairs, an area that consists of a bar in the front and a smaller seating area in the back, consisting entirely of booths. The booths are designed with a true sense of privacy from other diners, with backrests so ...

Eggspectation, Toronto 23/07/2006

Full of eggcitement

Eggspectation, Toronto You would be forgiven for overlooking Eggspectation, although it is rather large and located on Yonge Street near the Eaton Centre, pretty much in the heart of downtown Toronto. With its tinted windows, a passer-by would easily think that the establishment was closed - and all the more so given its confusing display of opening times using merely the first letters of the days of the week and numbers. Someone should tell them that there are two days in the week that start with the letter "T" and two days in the week that start with the letter "S". Overlooking this lovely breakfast and lunch establishment, however, would be a grand mistake given some of the unusual and "eggciting" items on the menu. ***Ambience and décor*** The place is not exactly the most inviting - as you finally make a decision to enter the doors to have a meal, you find yourself in a space that resembles a slightly upper-class canteen. You are supposed to wait for someone to show you to a table, but as the place is rather large, you are sometimes overlooked by the waiters and it can take a little while before you are seated. All seats are wooden benches or chairs - whether you are lucky enough to receive a place in one of their few booths or unlucky enough to be seated at one of their awkwardly designed tables, where your dining partner will be slightly too far away to have an intimate conversation. One of the reasons we had opted to eat here was the fact that Eggspectation does have a ...

Red Lobster, Toronto 16/07/2006

Shrimply fantastic

Red Lobster, Toronto As a seafood and fish lover, I am constantly on the look-out for good restaurants that serve a variety of these species. One of my favourite places in the United States for seafood has also been Red Lobster - and naturally I was more than excited to have the opportunity to frequent this chain of seafood restaurants on a recent trip to Toronto. ***The history*** The first Red Lobster branch was established in Lakeland, Florida in 1968. The founders' ambition was simply to provide great service and delicious seafood to diners. As the concept was very successful, Red Lobster rapidly expanded in the South East of the United States during the early 1970s. Some of the dishes found on Red Lobster's menu today, such as the infamous popcorn shrimp, snow crab and key lime pie, have indeed been around since these early years of establishment. Today there are more than 350 Red Lobster restaurants across the United States and Canada. ***Location*** There are three Red Lobster branches in the greater Toronto area, however, the one that tourists are most likely to visit during their time in Toronto is located in the Atrium, located at Dundas Street and Bay Street - but also accessible from Yonge Street and Bay Street. If you do not know about its existence, it is easily missed, as you are more likely to walk on Yonge Street than on Bay Street and might be distracted by another interesting restaurant, the Pickle Barrel. ***Ambience and décor*** Unlike Red Lobster in ...

Cora, Toronto 11/07/2006

Breakfast at Cora's

Cora, Toronto Finding a decent breakfast in Toronto proved to be a much more difficult task than we had imagined. Unlike New York City, where diners of every variety are placed every couple of blocks, Toronto simply did not seem to have the same selection of eateries. Slightly bored with what was on offer at our hotel, we were keen to try Cora's, a place that was highly recommended by the tour guide that showed us around the city on our very first day. Located in Blue Jay's Way, close to the Front Street intersection, the establishment is easily accessible to those with hotels near the CN Tower. However, it is certainly worth walking 20-30 minutes to have breakfast here. Frequented by both tourists and locals alike, there is usually a queue in front of the restaurant during peak hours - especially on weekends. This queue does move fairly quickly - and we never had to wait more than ten minutes for a table. At least its popularity vouches for the greatness of the food and menu of a place that looks slightly tacky with its bright yellow and green design and happy smiley sun trade mark. ***History*** Cora Mussely Tsouflidou, the founder of Cora's restaurants, was born in Caplan, a little village in the Gaspé peninsula. Cora always had a passion for fine art, but her father wanted her to become a secretary. Fate intervened in Cora's life. Although she enrolled in college to pursue her father's dreams rather than her own, she soon discovered that she was pregnant with her first ...

The Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto 02/07/2006

Heavenly Dreams

The Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto Choosing a hotel for our trip to Toronto certainly was not easy for me. Having lived in the city for an entire year, I was keen on having a nice location, a good deal and a clean hotel room - and naturally I did not mind a little bit of luxury in the process. I was torn between various two and three star hotel, when it suddenly occurred to me that the price for the Westin Harbour Castle, a four to five star hotel (depending which rating site you visit), would cost very little extra money. Having seen the spectacular lobby of this hotel before, I took the liberty of incurring the extra cost and booked us into this establishment, located right on Lake Ontario. ***Arrival and checking in*** There is a distinct advantage to choosing the Westin Harbour Castle over other hotels, especially when coming from overseas and choosing the downtown bus service as a mode of transportation into the city. The bus will always drop off passengers at the Westin Harbour Castle first - and by the same token, it is the last place where the driver picks up any passengers returning to the airport. This avoids an annoying 20-30 minutes of being chauffeured across downtown Toronto and waiting for other passengers to get to their destinations before reaching your own. Although the hotel does not have a doorman or porter greeting you upon arrival, the feel of luxury becomes immediately apparent as you enter the humongous lobby with its beautiful marble floors. You'd be forgiven to feel a ...

Lush Rock Star Soap 01/07/2006

More of a Pop Star

Lush Rock Star Soap Lush seems to be one of those companies that most women simply love without qualification - and consequently most products the company produce are accepted, without critique, as brilliant. One of the popular products that Lush produced is the "Rock Star Soap", a pink little treat that is supposed to make you happy and make you smell like a rock candy mountain. So maybe it does not pretend to be very rock 'n roll - but the name of the soap initially did make me think of music rather than sweets! ***The product*** Unlike some other Lush soaps, this soap bar looks rather bland. It is simply pink - without much glitter or decoration to it. I am told that some pieces of the soap will have a white star on it. Lush describes the soap as softly scented and promises that it will make you smell like a creamy candy bath - a combination of vanilla fragrance and fruity sweets. The soap is produced in one huge lump - so when you visit a Lush store you will have to specify approximately how much you would like. 100 grams will set you back £2.10 ***My experience*** I received a piece of this soap as a sample from Lush - and I have to admit, that it looks so unappealingly boring that I never quite felt tempted to use it. On my little sample it stated that the soap would male me smell like a sweetshop - and somehow I simply could not see any reason why I would want to smell like that. A quick sniff made my brain associate the scent with a musty pink marshmallow. Once ...

Kenco Cappio Cappuccino Milka 13/06/2006

I ♥ Milka

Kenco Cappio Cappuccino Milka Many people loathe instant coffee or instant cappuccino - and I have to admit that until fairly recently, the only instant caffeine shot that appealed to me was Nescafe's unsweetened cappuccino. I tried so many other cappuccino's - from Kenco (regular), to Maxwell to Sainsbury's. To my bitter disappointment, all of these tated pretty dreadful. I had heard about Kenco producing a cappuccino with lovely Toblerone pieces. On a recent visit to Sainsbury's, I had a look for this treat. Much to my disappointed, it was sold out. However, I spotted a version that promised me cappuccino with mini pieces of Milka chocolate. That sounded like an indulgence well worth a try! ♥ The product♥ Kenco Cappio Specials Cappucino with Milka comes in a beige and purple box and contains 8 pouches with 22g of product each. The individual pouches are very simple to open - you can either tear it open at the tear line or use a pair of scissors. It is advisable to shake the pouch a little before opening it so that the powder moves to the bottom - otherwise some of the precious powder might get lost in the opening process. The powder looks more like a substance to make hot chocolate with than an instant cappuccino, it is very fine, light brown - and smells delightfully of chocolate. The amount of mini pieces of Milka alpine milk chocolate varies from pouch to pouch. Often they are difficult to spot - other times you will see a larger lump of chocolate in the powder ...

Keeping Faith - Jodi Picoult 12/06/2006

No matter what you believe…

Keeping Faith - Jodi Picoult Mariah White's dreams of a stable family life are shattered for a second time during her marriage when she catches her husband Colin with another woman. To make matters worse, Faith, her seven-year old daughter, witnesses the unhappy incident of "the other woman" exiting the bathroom in her parents' bedroom. Things happen very quickly after the incident. Colin moves out, Mariah struggles not to break down with depression and Faith develops an imaginary friend. At first Faith's imaginary friend appears to be a normal response of a child that has just witnessed a tragic incident, however, as she begins to develop stigmata and seemingly to perform healings, Mariah and several other individuals begin to feel that the imaginary friend may be God. This goes against the beliefs of the church, that feels that it is impossible for a Jewish girl to get in touch with God. And it goes against the beliefs of influential people in the media, most notably, Ian Fletcher - to such an extent that the house of the White family is suddenly tracked down and invaded by the media. As doubting Colin finds out about the situation, he strongly feels that Faith's stigmata and episodes are caused by Mariah - and he soon launches a custody suit that tests Mariah's strength to the limits. ***My opinion*** This book was highly recommended to me. It therefore came as a major disappointment to me that it took me such a long time to get into the story. As someone who does not believe in miracles ...

Speak softly, she can hear - Pam Lewis 10/06/2006

A series of unfortunate events

Speak softly, she can hear - Pam Lewis Carole, a studious, shy and overweight girl and her very much opposite glamorous friend, Naomi, find themselves months before graduation from a fancy Manhattan high school with only one dilemma: They are still virgins. The girls make a pact to lose their virginity before heading to college. Eddie Lindbaeck, a good-looking and charming rebel, is more than happy to assist the girls with their ambitions. During a school trip to Vermont, in a run-down cabin in the woods, Eddie begins to fulfill the girls' task. But the seemingly wonderful experience quickly turns into a nightmare when Carole discovers that Eddie and perhaps even Naomi are not what they appear to be. As Carole's special night gets disrupted by too much alcohol and the intrusion by a strange women, which sets off a series of unfortunate events, Carole, Naomi and Eddie find themselves sharing a dark secret that must be safeguarded at all costs. Carole and Naomi try to put the night behind them and lead normal lives. Whilst Naomi manages to marry a rich husband, Carole finds that her only way out may be running away from the past and to leave behind everyone that she loves. It is difficult for me to admit that this book is probably one of the best books I have read in a long time. The storyline is absolutely shocking, it is depressing and heartbreaking. But even though it is far from a happy read, the reader will appreciate what a brilliant piece of writing this book is, that so clearly manages to get into ...

Clink Prison Museum, Southwark, London 04/06/2006

Throw them in the Clink!

Clink Prison Museum, Southwark, London A couple of weeks ago, my fiance's brother and wife were visiting London and we were entrusted with the task of showing them the highlights of the city, including such delights as the HMS Belfast and the Tower of London. As we crossed the Millenium Bridge and took a walk along the Thames on the Waterloo station side of the, I saw a little sign pointing towards Borough Market. Being very keen on a Brownie, we decided to wander towards the markets, choosing Clink Street as our route. It was here that my future brother-in-law spotted the infamous Clink Prison - and he was eager to take a look. ***History of the Clink Prison and museum*** The Clink Prison Museum is located on the original site of the prison built by the Bishop of Winchester between 1107 and 1144. It included both a prison for women and a prison for men. It has been said that the two prisons presented a source of income for the Bishop, as whorehouses were regulated and shut down - bringing in a lot of fines and customers. Life in Clink Prison was apparently harsh. Not only were prisoners beaten, they were tortured brutally with various torture devices. Prisoners who were better off were able to pay the jail keepers money to obtain luxuries such as beds and bed linen and candles - as well as the luxury of less severe punishments. From 1352 onwards, the law permitted creditors to send their debtors to jail, vastly increasing the prison population. This mechanism was primarily used to extort more ...

Everyone Worth Knowing - Lauren Weisberger 28/05/2006

Everything worth forgetting

Everyone Worth Knowing - Lauren Weisberger After being let go from her 80-hour a week banking job, you would forgive Bette for mooching around her New York City apartment for a little while, eating junk food, watching daytime television and paying attention to her adorable little dog Millington. Concerned about her future, however, uncle Will quickly steps in to call in a favour and land Bette a job in super-cool PR firm Kelly & Company as an event planner. Trading in the boring suits for the latest fashion gear, Bette now lives the high life in New York City, working 24-7, always on call. She socializes with the most famous people from East and West Coast alike and quickly becomes boss Kelly's favourite new employee - be it for all the wrong reasons. Suddenly Bette finds her private life smeared across the tabloids - be it just because she suddenly seems to be the girlfriend of New York's most successful lawyer and eligible bachelor Philip Weston. Torn between two worlds, Bette often finds it difficult to choose whether she prefers to read a chick-lit book on her couch or clubbing dressed up in designer gear. Can she somehow manage to be part of both worlds? Or will she have to make a tough choice between celebs and glamour or true friends and family? And will she be able to find a fairytale prince in the process of finding herself? I spare you the suspense - overall I really did not like this book and I kept reading it for one reason only. Fairly early on in the book it is revealed that the Bette, the ...

Never say never - Melissa Hill 28/05/2006

Never say never

Never say never - Melissa Hill Just before graduation, a group of friends spend a lovely evening at St Stephen's Green in Dublin contemplating what the future might hold for each of them. Having spent many years together, everyone seems to have figured out precisely in their minds what is in store. Leah, an ace in the kitchen, is certainly destined to become a chef. Robin, who is a little quieter than everyone else in the group, probably will find herself in the role of an accountant. Olivia, a little on the plump side and motherly, is bound to get married to childhood sweetheart Peter and have a wealth of children, while Amanda is destined to become famous. Dreaming about the future, the friends make a pact to meet again in five years time, just in case they do not all manage to keep in touch. Not everyone follows the path so clearly predicted by their friends. Robin runs off to New York, Olivia finds herself in a long period of grief, Leah is fast approaching thirty and not sure about her future at all. It is only once Robin returns home for a visit seven years later that the friends can sort out their problems and bring themselves back onto a better track of life. If you think that this description sounds rather vague, then this is entirely done on purpose. If you think that this description sounds boring, then you are entirely wrong. Although this is yet another book in the chick-lit genre and certainly many twists of the story are entirely predictable, the reader is actually in for some ...
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