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If my reviews entertain, amuse or brighten your moment in any way, then my task is done! ++ Thought for today; sometimes it pays to take a day, and read the instructions before launching into a rant review!. ++

Reviews written

since 20/06/2004


Exeter Christmas Market, Exeter 03/12/2016


Exeter Christmas Market, Exeter CHRISTMAS MARKETS Now on my second Christmas Market review of the season and is RICHADA feeling any less curmudgeonly about the season of goodwill this year? Is he b%^^*$y! The sight of Christmas decorations going up, even in people’s homes in mid-November I find quite depressing. Two weeks ago in my review of Winchester’s Christmas Market, I commented that these events “take all forms, the good, bad and the indifferent and are therefore worthy of reviewing at this time of year”, well the Exeter one I actually felt quite strongly about patronising this year and then reviewing here, bear with me for a moment or two and I will explain why....... ......Exeter is a city that I have known for a very long time – since the 1970’s in fact, only recently getting to know it much better due to the increased frequency of our visits there. It is now a prosperous just “up and come” city, not a bad place for shopping all year round, and, unlike our own dear Brighton, it even has a couple of proper department stores – John Lewis and House of Fraser – but no, it is the historic heart of the city, the ancient High Street and behind it Cathedral Yard, and of course the Cathedral itself that make this such a good environment in which to shop or simply visit and spend time in. For Christmas 2016, this was all rather threatened when a colossal fire broke out in a large building over an art gallery facing the Cathedral. The upper floors of this beautiful building were being converted into ...

Amici Restaurant, Stockport 26/11/2016


Amici Restaurant, Stockport A REBRAND? Probably most of you reading this are aware that Amici quite simply means “friends” in Italian, well my friends I am going to introduce you to some of ours in Stockport! The Ciao category here quite rightly refers to this particular establishment as Amici Restaurant, as indeed it was until 2015 when the place was given a light make-over on the outside to modernise the image and scope of dining on offer here, becoming a slightly more trendy New York Italian eatery. At this stage it was renamed Amici New York Italian Restaurant, it is still known by us as simply Amici – although we did get something of a surprise upon arriving there last year – only to be reassured by the same old interior ambiance and team. WHERE IN THE WORLD? This time we are in the north west of England in the Cheshire town of Stockport which straddles the M60 Manchester orbital motorway, the subject of this review actually being located eleven miles south east of Manchester city centre. For those of you right now thinking “industrial northern urban sprawl”, Stockport is also on the edge of Derbyshire’s beautiful Peak District, the fabulous Lyme Park (Mr Darcy’s place in Colin Firth’s Pride and Prejudice) is less than a ten minute drive up the A6. WHY DID WE CHOOSE AMICI RESTAURANT IN STOCKPORT? In all the years that we have been visiting this particular restaurant, I can barely believe that I have not previously reviewed it here on Ciao, as, over the last ten years, we have probably eaten ...

Winchester Christmas Market, Winchester 22/11/2016


Winchester Christmas Market, Winchester CHRISTMAS MARKETS Ironic that a Christmas curmudgeon like RICHADA should be writing about Christmas markets, but, like other things in life, they take all forms, the good, bad and the indifferent and are therefore worthy of reviewing at this time of year. Living in Brighton, a city well known for its eclectic shopping, in some respects we are used to be being spoilt for choice all year round. We have the famous Lanes, which, being ancient narrow pedestrianised shopping streets, very much lend themselves to the Christmas spirit, especially when strung with lights. For some years now a “German Christmas Market” has set up its stalls outside the Churchill Square Shopping Centre, lovely bratwurst sausages apart, a poor apology I’ve always thought for anything attempting to call itself a Christmas Market, indeed apart from the annual, ceremonial sausage purchase, I have never spent a penny at this particular market. Over the last three years we have visited Christmas markets in York, Winchester, Brighton and this year will make a point of supporting the one in Exeter which has assigned space for the traders still out of business due to the hugely destructive fire which recently totally destroyed the ancient Royal Clarence Hotel which, for hundreds of years, stood facing Cathedral Green. We have to thank Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, for many of the traditions that we now take for granted at Christmas time – many of these stemming from Germany, land of the traditional ...

Mazda MX-5 1.5 12/11/2016


Mazda MX-5 1.5 THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION…… ……To fellow Ciao member and car enthusiast LiveMusicLoverLyn, who recently published her review on the new Fiat 124 Spider, which is entirely based upon the car that I am reviewing here. Sadly I have yet to drive that model; but if you would like a taster I would suggest clicking the following link as I feel the two reviews are highly complementary: WHAT IS IT? The MX5, Mazda’s baby, two seater, open topped, sports car has roots back in the late 1980’s having first wowed press and sports car fans alike when launched in 1989. The original MX5’s similarities to the 1960’s Lotus Elan were plain for all to see; from its petite, compact shape to its pop-up headlights, through to its simple, but purist front engine, rear wheel drive mechanical layout. In short an affordable small sports car, not exactly fast, but highly usable. Lotus could only have dreamed of reaching the size of audience that Mazda have with the MX5, or indeed the Elan building such a fantastic reputation for reliability and longevity as this model has done over the last twenty-seven years. Why am I harping on about the heritage of this enduring little car? Well, last year Mazda launched this, the ND, fourth generation model, it is probably the most radical of all as, rare indeed among car manufacturers, it not only sheds weight, but also length and girth, very much returning to the ideals of the purist original. The only ...

Daily Thoughts 09/11/2016


Daily Thoughts I beg the indulgence of the readers for a far less “polished” than usual RICHADA review here, and I do not expect you to in any way agree with my thoughts today which could well come across as quite contradictory and perhaps a little rambling. I have a horrible feeling that my thought train here will also lead to the asking of more questions than you, or I am able to answer..... MY THOUGHTS FOR TODAY First there was Brexit, now, we wake up this morning and there is Trump. The silent majority have spoken – or have they? For several decades now, both personally and as a businessman, I have been saying, ranting even at times, that ‘there HAS to be a better way of doing things’ – politically speaking that is. However is THIS, a billionaire business man buying himself the US Presidency, it? For most of our, collective, living memories we have had a see-saw left right and, recently, increasingly fuzzy middle ground politics, run by mostly over-blown, self serving politicians who have absolutely no idea whatsoever how the likes of you and I live and run our lives and / or businesses, nor what we have to do in order to balance the books be that the monthly household expenses or, in the case of a business the accounts. We have been very poorly served by both politicians and “public servants” at all levels of political life for a very long time, and yet, in our heart we know that the UK system is probably the best in the world – or have we simply fallen for the politicos ...

Hotel an der Oper, Chemnitz 05/11/2016


Hotel an der Oper, Chemnitz WHY DID WE BOOK THE HOTEL AN DER OPER IN CHEMNITZ? For those even less fluent than I in German, An Der Oper (in case you had not already guessed from the title) translates as “At the opera”. This booking occurred thanks to a falling out between our usual hotel – the Amber in Chemnitz and, which only came to light when we turned up at the Amber in the evening for dinner, discovering it to be virtually deserted, in spite of having no rooms to offer. The waiter explained to us that they had refused to release rooms to the booking site, the Amber was empty...... ......their loss was, on this occasion, the Hotel An Der Oper's gain, as I booked this one for our overnight stay on the way back from Poland in July. In reviewing terms I have already given a clue away in that we drove fifteen minutes to our usual hotel on the outskirts of town for dinner. Laptop in front of me and with, ostensibly, “no room at the inn” I had sought out other hotels in Chemnitz narrowing the field down to just two that offered car parking, free Wi-Fi and then only one, the An Der Oper, that had air conditioning. Rating as four stars against the Amber’s three, with an increased tariff to match, we had high expectations of this city centre hotel. HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY Having looked on both the An Der Oper’s own website, and read the reviews on a couple of booking sites, we were expecting a large, modern, comfortable hotel which formed part of ...

AMBER HOTEL Chemnitz Park, Chemnitz 04/11/2016


AMBER HOTEL Chemnitz Park, Chemnitz WHY DID WE BOOK THE AMBER HOTEL CHEMNITZ? Requiring a convenient hotel to stay in overnight on our return from Poland in May, we discovered the Amber Hotel whilst searching for hotels adjacent to E40 (the main East / West continental route) in the Chemnitz area. Last year we stayed in a hotel called the Drei Shwanen, previously reviewed - about five miles to the south west of here. The Amber looked perfectly situated (and easy to find) very close to a motorway junction. The fact that it was a four star hotel offering a double room on the Saturday night for a mere 68 Euros made it all the more attractive! HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY From the hotel website this looked like a "Eurostandard" (read bland!), modern, business hotel. A four star hotel with 103 rooms, I have to admit that it was the very reasonable price that actually caught our eye. The information given showed it to be situated on the edge of Chemnitz Centre, a large "Freeport" style shopping centre, which we have driven past a dozen or so times, next to the E40 motorway. My only reservation, before arriving there, was that this could be one very noisy nights stay! BOOKING PROCESS 6 / 10 Whilst on the hotels own site this looked - and at the time of booking, around six weeks prior to our stay - very simple indeed, when we arrived, there were not only TWO (named) parking spaces reserved but also two rooms. This was a first; we had assumed that we had made a single booking for a ...

Karczma Polska, Mielec 29/10/2016


Karczma Polska, Mielec WHERE IN THE WORLD? The subject of this review is set in the industrial town of Mielec in the far south east of Poland, about 120km east of Krakow. Unless, like us, you have family there, or are attending the enormous adjacent industrial estate on business, this is a town that you are unlikely to visit through idle curiosity; it is certainly not a tourist destination. WHAT EXACTLY IS A KARCZMA? Karczma (pronounced Kartchma) Polska can be translated as nothing really more smart or glamorous than Polish Kitchen, which, in practice (this is the third or fourth one that I have eaten in over the years) is a pseudo-traditional Polish Highland restaurant. All of them are built from traditional wood, looking a little like large log cabins from the outside, they are also roofed with wooden tiles and have a trademark eyebrow dormer window in the roof. Inside the décor will be pretty standard too, rustic wooden tables and bench seating, atmospheric, but probably none too comfortable – even with animal skins to sit on over the wooden bench. Originating from the mountain resort of Zakopane, these restaurants are now springing up all over Poland. The food offered is similar, with regional variations and specialities added. You can expect portions to be meaty and plentiful and served by staff dressed in traditional highland costumes. Compared to less “traditional” hotels and restaurants they tend to be comparatively expensive. Perversely the Poles, if they can afford to, will always go ...

H+ Hotel, Erfurt 24/10/2016


H+ Hotel, Erfurt WHY DID WE BOOK THE H+ HOTEL IN ERFURT? It had been our original intention to book at least a two night stay in the centre of Erfurt in order to enjoy this historic city as a break on the way back from a funeral trip to Poland. Being the first week of October however, the weather was absolutely awful and for some mysterious reason, every hotel in Erfurt appeared to be fully booked on the nights that we had originally wanted to be there. The H+ was a compromise, if the weather was that poor we would not be sight-seeing anyway and Erfurt very neatly halves the distance between my in-laws in Poland and where we needed to be at 16.20 on Sunday afternoon – i.e. Calais. Searching hotels in the vicinity, the H+ had fair reviews and was in a suitable location. HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY Until January 2016, this was a Ramada Hotel and they make no secret of that either on their website or indeed inside the hotel. The advertising makes this look very clinical, a business hotel as are so prevalent throughout Germany. We have been pleasantly surprised in the past however – the Amber in Chemnitz being in very much the same style whilst offering good accommodation and fabulous food. For an overnight stay, the four star H+ looked ideal from everything that I read about it online, we would not be paying for swimming pools, saunas or gyms which we were not going to be there long enough to use. BOOKING PROCESS: 7 / 10 I should not really hold it against the ...

Volvo V40 T3 Momentum 18/10/2016


Volvo V40 T3 Momentum WHAT IS IT? The V40 is Volvo’s lead in model, the smallest car in their range, equivalent to most other manufacturers mid-range offerings and can be regarded as a prestige five door hatchback. Whilst Volvo would probably prefer you to compare the stylish V40 with such premium hatches as the Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 1 Series or Mercedes A Class, its size and five door configuration also put it in contention with some talented mass-market entrants such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Volkswagen Golf. All of the above listed manufacturers offer a smaller, less expensive, “supermini” type car in their ranges, even if that is badged as a Mini in BMW’s case – the V40 is however the least expensive and smallest way to sit behind a new Volvo badge. It is Volvo’s stated intention, even in Chinese ownership, that the V40 will remain the smallest car in their range. WILL IT FIT YOUR GARAGE? It may be small for a Volvo, but the V40 is not a small car. It is dimensionally larger than all of the cars mentioned above. It is however a convenient size for the majority of people, especially those used to driving much larger cars and now looking to downsize without sacrificing too much in terms of space and comfort. At 4369mm (14ft 3ins) long and 1857mm (6ft) wide it is a mere 11mm longer and 34mm wider than a Ford Focus, which itself is the largest car of the five door hatchback group. We have no problem fitting the Volvo V40 into our standard 1960’s garage. WHICH SPECIFIC ...

Marocco's, Brighton & Hove 24/09/2016


Marocco's, Brighton & Hove WHERE IN THE WORLD? An interesting one as, on the Brighton and Hove Sea Front, this, apart from being on the pier, is about as close to the sea as you are going to sit down and eat a meal. We are actually in Hove, around two miles west of Brighton Pier, close to the King Alfred Leisure Centre. Very different in character from the sea front between Brighton Marina and the i360 tower, King’s Esplanade in Hove could be in a different city altogether, having a far more relaxed, dare I say “classy” feel to it. It is also the only residential development on the sea side of the main A259 coast road between Brighton Marina and Shoreham Harbour. There are several medium rise blocks of flats here – this is a very popular spot, for those who can afford it, to live. Dating from Victorian times there is an eclectic range of buildings facing the sea here, including a none too attractive, 1930’s, “cubist block” smack in the middle of the buildings facing the sea. That cream coloured, flat roofed block is Marrocco’s, something of a local institution having been here since 1969, just seven years short of my own residency in this city! WHY DID WE CHOOSE MARROCCO’S IN HOVE? A born and bred Brightonion, to my embarrassment I only, very recently, discovered Marrocco’s, they do not advertise widely – no need to – and King’s Esplanade was not an area that we ever found ourselves visiting. Two influencing factors introduced us to Marrocco’s, intriguingly it appearing in a music video, and ...

Hyundai i20 1.2 SE 19/09/2016


Hyundai i20 1.2 SE SORTING MY LEFT FROM MY RIGHT I can hardly believe that it is over a year since I last published a car review here, or anywhere else come to that. This one is somewhat unusual in that for the first time my review is based on my experiences with a left hand drive car, driven exclusively in Poland. This has always been an issue of some curiosity to me as the motoring press do it a lot and I was always interested in how well a car, also sold on the UK market, could be assessed with a steering wheel facing what should be the passenger seat and indeed driven on foreign roads. Putting me on safer ground with this one is the fact that the car reviewed here is a new Hyundai. I have driven many of them over the years and all have shown a remarkable consistency in terms of build quality and driving dynamics, this car did nothing to change my opinion on that. WHAT IS IT? In terms of market position the i20 is a five door supermini which, due to its styling and very spacious interior, neither looks nor feels like a small hatchback car. In short, unlike its predecessor which now feels quite boxy and old fashioned, this is the kind of car that many drivers feel quite comfortable downsizing into as there are few drawbacks in so doing. This particular car, as are the ones sold in the UK, was built in Turkey, Hyundai also have a plant in India building the same car for the far eastern markets, making the i20 a true global supermini. WILL IT FIT YOUR GARAGE? Unless your garage is ...

Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, United Kingdom 17/09/2016


Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, United Kingdom ***Very sad to report that as of September 2016 this attraction is now closed. After 29 years here the owners have decided to retire (he is 70 next April) but I was not surprised to read that the increasing burdon of health and safety had played a hand in this decision. We have very fond memories of the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, it was a place not only popular with local families - children in particular - but also thanks to its unique collection of breeds, some surprisingly rare, it had a worldwide reputation. I wish the owners well in their retirement and mourn the loss of a Sussex institution. Having today (29.3.09) re-visited the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, a brief up-date to this review seemed in order. At the start of another seasons' outings it should be noted that, as always, both our English Heritage and National Trust subscriptions have increased this year, the Sheep Centre, yet again, has not increased its prices and indeed, in this day and age now looks conspicuously good value for money. When I emailed a friend, a couple of years ago, that Mrs R and I had visited this place, she laughed and said that "up here we just go walking in the hills to see sheep". Well yes, here in the vastly over-populated South East of England, this may surprise some of you, but we too can walk up on the South Downs and see, and be amongst, sheep. Indeed so common are sheep around here that they have a breed of their own - South Downs Sheep! The Seven Sisters Sheep Centre is ...

The Fig, Rye 10/09/2016


The Fig, Rye WHERE IN THE WORLD? For this one we are in one of our favourite towns in the country; Rye. Ancient and beautiful, one of the historic Cinque Ports, in mediaeval times Rye was a virtual island. Now almost two miles from the sea, it is difficult to imagine this hilltop town located on the East Sussex / Kent border as a bustling sea port, its main economy is now derived from tourism, which keeps it just as bustling but, for such a small town, has also found it somewhat over-endowed with eating places of all sorts. On the premise that there is always room for one more, if you offer something different, The Fig opened at number 2 High Street, that is right at the top end where you can enjoy a stunning view over Romney Marsh. If you are very lucky you can park on the street nearby, more usually though it will be the big pay and display car park at the bottom of the hill by the railway station, about a ten minute walk away. WHY DID WE CHOOSE THE FIG IN RYE? When we visited Rye in February, I was looking for, and found, a leather belt in the wonderful old fashioned leather shop there. Having parked on the main street, just down the road, we walked past the Fig, Mrs R commenting that it looked so good that we should pop in for coffee before driving home. It had not long opened, still smelling new inside. Having enjoyed very good coffee and the best Victoria sponge cake we have ever tasted, we vowed to return for lunch on our next visit to Rye, and, last month, that is exactly ...

P & O Ferries The Brasserie, Dover 03/09/2016


P & O Ferries The Brasserie, Dover WHERE IN THE WORLD? An unusual one this as I do not remember reviewing a restaurant that actually moves between two places. We are on board The Spirit of Britain (how very appropriate immediately post-Brexit), one of the several large, modern, P & O ferries plying the English Channel. WHY DID WE CHOOSE THE BRASSERIE ON P&O’s SPIRIT OF BRITAIN? Over the last 15 years we must have taken at least 25 Calais to Dover P&O Ferries crossings, always making our return from our annual visit to my Polish in laws, also from several European holidays along the way too. We have done this for the sole reason of sitting down, relaxing and having a decent meal prior to making the last, English, leg of our journey home. Until about four years ago the P&O on board restaurants were Langan’s Brasserie franchises, whilst always expensive, they did serve good food in a thoroughly professional manner, we always looked forward to our ship-bourne meal. Out went Langan’s, to be replaced by anonymous “The Brasserie” branding – nothing wrong with that, the menu looked similar, but in all other respects it has been down hill all the way - apart that is, from the increasingly ambitious pricing. LOCATION & ACCESSIBILITY: 14 / 15 You will find The Brasserie on the top passenger deck of the ferry, usually located towards the front behind the First Class Lounge. All decks are accessible via both lifts and stairs, making this as easy to use as any other facility on-board. The Brasserie is well ...
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