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If my reviews entertain, amuse or brighten your moment in any way, then my task is done! ++ Welcome back, but is there anyone left to care here on Ciao - less than 30 rates since breakfast time Saturday? ++

Reviews written

since 20/06/2004


Boston Tea Party, Stratford-upon-Avon 18/03/2017


Boston Tea Party, Stratford-upon-Avon WHERE IN THE WORLD? For this review we are on the north eastern tip of the Cotswolds in the south Midlands at the scenic, tourist trap (thanks Mr Shakespeare!) town of Stratford Upon Avon. WHY DID WE CHOOSE THE BOSTON TEA PARTY IN STRATFORD UPON AVON? Well, we weren’t really “in” Stratford, we were merely stopping off for breakfast on the way one recent Sunday morning, to an appointment a few miles north of here. The previous night, thanks to the wonder of the “www” we discovered that our favourite Honiton Breakfast venue, Boston Tea Party (BTP) had, last year, opened a new restaurant in Stratford, what a thoroughly appropriate venue for a BTP we thought, and, how very conveniently located on our route that morning too! LOCATION & ACCESSIBILITY: 13 / 15 We merely followed Ulrika (that is our Volvo’s female GPS)’s directions off of the M40 and into Stratford on main roads that I did not recognise from our last visit around fifteen years ago, suffice to say here that, landing up in an ugly grey 1960’s concrete multi-storey car park right opposite Boston Tea Party, we saw nothing that is remotely pretty about Stratford Upon Avon en-route. Boston Tea Party is very prominently located in the distinctive old School Hall on the corner of Henley and Windsor Streets, just off the main A3400 Birmingham Road. The Windsor Street multi-storey car park is almost opposite and at £1 for an hours’ parking, we were not caned on price either! Accessibility is very good; a flat entrance ...

Channel 4 - Gogglebox 11/03/2017


Channel 4 - Gogglebox 9.00pm, FRIDAY, CHANNEL 4, DOES IT GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS? Here on there are a large number of reviewers, from all walks of life, all ethnicities, every sexual orientation - a bunch of people brought together, on a UK consumer review site, to share their opinions on just about any subject. For doing so, we earn a pittance, or, nothing at all increasingly, for pursuing what becomes something of an addictive occupation / hobby. However, through thick and thin, Ciao remains a popular site with we members – and hopefully proves of benefit to the millions (yes indeed) of you offsite who refer to our reviews as consumers. Why do I start this review thus? Well, it just struck me that the appeal of Gogglebox is not dissimilar, in many respects, to that of this very site. On Ciao, as on Gogglebox, we get to look into a window on others lives, we express our opinions here on many things and have a free choice to do so, the “members” on Gogglebox are rather more limited to commenting on what they watch on their own TV or, more specifically, are tasked by the producers to watch. Another parallel is that they actually earn surprisingly little – a closely guarded secret, revealed by the tabloids recently as £1500 per month per family – OK, no family EVER earned that on Ciao! Having in two previous TV “critic” reviews actually referenced Gogglebox, I could not resist offering up my opinion on it here. THE CONCEPT 10 / 10 Is this something original that will capture ...

BBC1 - SS-GB 08/03/2017


BBC1 - SS-GB 9.00pm SUNDAY, BACK IN FRONT OF THE TV, BUT WHICH CHANNEL? In February 2017 we were treated to brand new drama series from both major channels; ITV just pipping the BBC to the post with its “Good Karma Hospital”, airing two episodes before SS-GB went out on BBC1 for the first time. I have ended up reviewing these two series in the order in which they aired, although SS-GB being a five parter, if you are a live TV watcher, you might just have seen the entire series prior to reading my review. As far as the professional TV critics were concerned it was pretty much all going the BBC’s, SS-GB’s way on this one, four or five star rates consistently beating the three star ones for The Good Karma Hospital. For many years now I have been extremely selective of what I view on television, for instance I watch none of the soap operas and the only “reality” TV, if you can call it that, viewed is Gogglebox, which I regard as a programme of simple genius. As far as Sunday night goes, I am, undeniably, part of the television broadcasters captive audience, but even so, some blockbusters, notably “Poldark” have totally failed to capture my imagination or loyalty, whilst other, surprisingly soapy ones, such as Call the Midwife have proven unexpectedly addictive. Falling into the latter category is currently The Good Karma Hospital, already rated here in a comparative Ciao review, so, where does that leave this particular big-budget offering – SS-GB? THE CONCEPT 5 / 10 Is this something ...

The Good Karma Hospital 07/03/2017


The Good Karma Hospital IT’S 9.00pm SUNDAY, IN FRONT OF THE TV – NATURALLY! Traditionally the 9.00pm Sunday viewing slot is something of a “captive” sweet spot for TV broadcasters, at least in terms of the anticipated audience numbers, a wind down from the weekend in preparation for the new working week to come. This tends to lead to the broadcasters throwing big budget at dramas, with the likes of Poldark and Downton Abbey turning into something of a Sunday night institution. Unusually, in February 2017, we have been treated to brand new series from both major channels; ITV just pipping the BBC to the post with this one, “Good Karma Hospital”, having aired two episodes before SS-GB being screened on BBC1 for the first time last week. As direct competitors, one may well argue that, in terms of viewing numbers, the BBC was definitely wrong footed on this one, Good Karma having already prevailed in order to have the viewers hooked prior to SS-GB being launched (with apologies to my non-ship loving friends for the awful pun there). However, my impression is that the professional reviewers rated the BBC’s offering far more highly than they did ITV’s, appearing to rate on average Good Karma 3 stars against SS-GB’s four or five. In the name of fairness I have viewed both programmes and intend to review them here on a competitive basis, hereby starting yet another review “formula”. I am these days extremely selective of what I view on television and, Gogglebox, undisputedly the best entertainment on ...

Flexi Classic Lead 01/03/2017


Flexi Classic Lead PLEASE NOTE: Richard applied for a specific category for the item I am reviewing here, which is "Neon" or fluorescent yellow, rather than black, and was turned down by the powers that be, who “hope that he will continue to help keep Ciao interesting and up-to-date”, not much chance of that if most new product proposals are being turned down whilst decades old, obsolete, categories still remain available to review! Apart from the colour of the lead itself and a fluorescent yellow sticker on the casing either side, my lead is identical to the one shown in the Ciao picture and functions in all respects in exactly the same way – I know this as this is my third Flexi lead, both of the previous ones being the "Classic" version as in Ciao's category picture. Enough of the formalities, time to sniff out the crime – sorry, review, the exact subject of which is...... FLEXI RETRACTABLE NEON DOG LEAD, MEDIUM SIZE Hello, just in case you hadn’t already guessed, it is me, Lord Frederick Jack-Russell here and, this time, I’m going to tell you all about how stupid and forgetful my faithful servant, Richard, can be...... ......Please don’t tell him that I am sharing these thoughts with you though as I am still residing in RICHADA Towers, my holiday home in Brighton, I should have been back at home in Devon weeks ago, but rather want to stay here and I was really hoping nobody has noticed that I’m still here – six weeks later! (Fat chance of not noticing YOU still being here Freddie ...

Enterprise Rent A Car 25/02/2017


Enterprise Rent A Car RICHADA RENTING A CAR? Well no actually, and if you believe that in order to review a subject you have to have paid for it, stop reading now…… ……This story begins when, having been told by Caffyns Eastbourne Volvo; ‘yes, they all do that, sir, we’ll need your car in for two days to fix it’, come the day before the fix, they had no loan car for me. Very generously – well, being a warranty claim the bill was being passed on to Volvo after all - the receptionist rang me to say that they had arranged a hire car from Enterprise next door, but it would not be ready until 11.00am. I dropped my car at the Volvo dealership in eager anticipation of a new review subject to drive, the receptionist walking me through the showroom and into the adjacent Enterprise premises. The Enterprise advertising boast is that they offer “UK car hire with US customer service”, I have never been on the receiving end of their “US customers service”, but the review should reveal all. EASTBOURNE ENTERPRISE RENT A CAR Enterprise Rent a Car are headquartered in Clayton, Missouri, United States and operate in a total of sixty-six countries world wide. Here they have hundreds of locations covering all of the UK, not only at airports and major population centres but in what they describe as “neighbourhood locations” too. You really are never all that far away from an Enterprise office. My experience, and therefore this review, is entirely based on their Eastbourne site. Whilst their premises are right ...

Ford Escort XR3i 21/02/2017


Ford Escort XR3i RICHADA THE EX-FAST FORD FAN Last week I published a review on the latest Ford Focus, specifically a top of the range Titanium X model, coming to the conclusion that this was a car 25% over priced. Many commentators agreed with me that, for “average” cars Fords were over-priced……. ……This was not always the case, and, during the 1980’s, I had a lot of fun, cheap motoring, in a series of Fords, starting with a 1.1 Fiesta Ghia in 1982 and finishing almost ten years later when I sold my second Escort XR3i Convertible. Unlike the modern, range topping, Focus, the Escort Ghia, XR3i and RS’s had enough trim and styling differentiators to easily justify their premium price over the more humble L and GL models of the day. Both to sit in and to drive they had a decidedly more upmarket feel to them, yes, even then, they were built down, ruthlessly, to a price, but the price you paid was a fair one. Maybe over the last thirty years I have simply grown up, that or Ford’s image has changed to the extent that it no longer mass-manufactures cars which appeal to the masses in the way that they did when I was in my twenties. WHAT IS IT? The Escort, with its roots in the 1960’s, was always Ford’s car for the masses, it was successful in sales terms in a way that few models ever have been since and that was due to a very clever model mix and the presence of aspirational models such as the XR3i and rather more specialist RS (Rally Sport) at the top of the range. The XR3i was a ...

Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi Titanium X 11/02/2017


Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi Titanium X WHAT IS IT? The Ford Focus is the definition of a whole class of family five door, five seat hatchback cars that Ford has laid claim to since the days of the Mk3 Escort in 1981. It is the car for everyman, arguably the largest, most practical car that any of us truly need in our lives and, as such, it faces fierce competition from just about every manufacturer from Alfa Romeo to Volvo, and has consistently outsold the competition since this version was launched in 2011, since being heavily face-lifted a couple of years ago. WILL IT FIT YOUR GARAGE? Bearing in mind that a current model Fiesta is now similar in dimensions to the Escort, this cars forebear, the Focus and the whole five door hatchback class has grown to pretty much fill a 1960’s standard single garage. With a length of 4358mm and a width of 1823mm, dimensionally, the Focus is class average, the 1400kg weight is an eye opener for a front wheel drive hatchback too, clearly my size and weight perception of this class are as out of date as my price / value judgement! To compare, a VW Golf is just 20mm shorter and 16mm narrower, whilst the latest Vauxhall Astra is 12mm longer and 14mm narrower. We are talking cigarette packet differences between the three, leading, class contenders here. WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL? This car, the Focus Titanium X with a 2.0 TDCi diesel engine, is right at the top of the non-sporting, Focus hatchback tree. A similarly equipped, more practical Estate model is also available – for an ...

Question time! 02/02/2017


Question time! HANG ON A MOMENT……. “This is supposed to be a topic entitled “Question Time”; Lord Frederick Jack-Russell, that means I, Richard, ask YOU the questions, you do not get to address your adoring publ……….” “No, no, not you, no, you’re a Black Labrador your breed is awful, vicious, absolutely terrible, no, I’ll not be answering any of your………..” “I am not a black Labrador, and they are not vicious or terrible - stop it Fred! You’ve been watching far too much television here in Brighton, that doesn’t sound in the least bit presidential, just a poor, doggy, impression of one!” “You are the best, absolutely the best, a serious specimen of a human being, serious human.” “Fred this is tiresome, why do you only pick up the most ridiculous and annoying mannerisms, rather than the friendly well mannered ones? Thank God you are asleep by the time Family Guy airs.” “Well Richard, aristocratic and highly intelligent as I am, when all said and done I am a seven and a half year old Jack Russell and have a mental age of approximately two point four of your human years, mimicking our elders is what we do, along with challenging them – pushing the boundaries…… ……Yes, Jack Russell, the best, absolutely the best, the finest, most handsome, intelligent and wise breed there is, serious dogs, the very finest…….” THIS IS A STRUGGLE WHAT IS GOING ON? “YOUR elders, Lord Frederick, do not feature on the BBC News Channel, the only thing that you have in common with the American President is that ...

Lancut Castle, Poland 25/01/2017


Lancut Castle, Poland Lancut (pron. wineshoot) was one of the very first places in Poland that my then fiancée and I visited in our first flush of romance. Indeed, it was on the Sunday of my very first visit to Poland - the "meet the parents" trip in June 2001. That day trip to Lancut was rather rushed for several reasons, partly though due to the heavens opening. It was a very hot and humid, thundery day. Outside the sky was as black as night, we saw little of the gardens, or indeed the Coach House. During the five years that followed I have always wanted to return on a finer day - partly because, due to the weather, we were unable to take photographs that first time. On the last Sunday of July (2006), we made our return visit, this time as a family party, Mrs R, her sister Klaudia, their parents and myself. It was an equally hot day, the outside temperature gauge in the car reading 35deg.C, as we parked in the road that crosses the park. This time however, a bright blue sky formed a backdrop for the many photographs taken. WHERE IS LANCUT? Assuming that very few of you have heard of, fewer still actually visited this little town, I had better explain where it is located. Follow European route E40 all the way east from Calais, across northern France, central Belgium, all the way through Germany and then Poland - stop around 50 miles from the Ukrainian border and there you will find Lancut, situated on the left hand side of this ancient trans-continental route. It is about a 20 minute drive to ...

General: Poland 24/01/2017


General: Poland Some years ago, I published an up-dated version of this, probably my most ambitious review ever here on Ciao - Poland in General. Originally it was published in September 2005, Poland was already changing rapidly. For several years by then, I had been advising anyone interested in visiting this fascinating country to go 'sooner rather than later'. There are some things that I hate being proved correct about and this, regrettably, has proven to be one of them. Having made three visits to Poland in 2016, I have been inspired to re-visit this review in order to see just how much things have changed. Currently it is not only the character of Poland that is changing, but due to economic factors, then Brexit devaluing the pound against the Zloty, this is no longer a bargain destination. Indeed, due to the rate of exchange - the pound may be weak, but the Polish Zloty has been strong - even against the Euro, prices generally in Poland are now higher than in neighbouring Germany. Here follows an experimental update then, following sections that now warrant further comment you will find 01.17: followed by updated comment. How on earth to review a whole country "in general"? Well I am going to stick to the bits I know and have found out about during the last five years since "discovering" the Poles and slightly later Poland itself. The many aspects that I do not know about I am not going to attempt to bluff my way through here. 01.17: It has been over sixteen years now and the ...

Kasprowy Wierch, Western Tatras 24/01/2017


Kasprowy Wierch, Western Tatras KASPROWY WIERCH - WHERE ON EARTH ARE WE? Unless you happen to be Polish, from the Tatra region of Slovakia, or have holidayed in the mountain resort of Zakopane, there is no earthly reason why you would be expected to have heard of this particular location. Yes, in case you are still guessing, I am reviewing a mountain here, Poland’s most popular ski mountain at that! In order get your bearings, let me explain that Mount Kasprowy Wierch is located immediately to the south of Zakopane, the most popular winter resort in Poland. Its’ summit actually forms part of the Polish / Slovakian border along the High Tatras in the south east of Poland. In turn, Zakopane is located about two hours south of Krakow by road or rail, which in all likelihood, if visiting the area, is where you will have landed, having flown there. This particular area of the Tatra Mountains is the most accessible, both for Polish tourists and others visiting the region. Consequently, summer or winter, this is not an area in which to escape from the maddening crowds. If that is your intention and the Tatras’ are your desire, then I would recommend trying the Slovakian side of the border, it is quieter there, although the slopes, being south facing, are covered in snow for less of the year. That hardly represents the spirit of this review though! PONY & TRAP or SHANK’S PONY? OK, so you find yourself in Zakopane and want to see the sites. Kasprowy Wierch will appear in all the tourist guides, assuming ...

My wedding in an exotic location. 24/01/2017


My wedding in an exotic location. Our hairdresser celebrated her nuptials in Mexico in February last year, undoubtedly the kind of "Exotic Location" that the proposer of this review category had in mind. We were invited, but regrettably had to turn down that invitation having returned from Poland the previous month. As it turned out, with my leg in plaster at the time, I would not have been able to travel all the way to Mexico. Her wedding took place at an all-inclusive five star resort, the ceremony itself taking place on the beech. Exotic indeed. Yes, this is supposed to be about "our" exotic wedding is it not? Our first wedding, here in England, was far from exotic, taking place in the Blackpool Registry Office on a wet, late October, day in 2001. In order to save myself from being accused of writing an Off Topic review here, I am going to share with you my Pocket Oxford Dictionary's definition of the word "exotic": i.e. "Introduced from abroad". I may not have been "introduced" as such to my fiancée, but the south east of Poland, where she was born and brought up, definitely qualifies as abroad. As you have by now almost certainly guessed then, this review is about our Polish wedding! WHY HAVE TWO WEDDINGS? Well, it certainly was not because I enjoy attending weddings, even as the groom! Maybe at the age of 39, most men have by then been through two weddings and I just wanted to catch up with my contemporaries! No! When Adrianna - A.K.A. Mrs R. hereabouts, first came to England from Poland, ...

Hotel Zlote Deby, Warsaw 24/01/2017


Hotel Zlote Deby, Warsaw WHY DID WE BOOK THE HOTEL ZLOTE DEBY? When searching for a hotel abroad, our priorities probably vary slightly from the majority – especially as on our recent visit to Warsaw, where we needed the reassurance that our car would be safely parked at night. We originally intended to stay in one of the better known, city centre hotels, however, suitable rooms AND on-site parking were an impossible compromise, plus, as we all know, better value can be obtained outside of the city centre. With only loose plans for our three night stay in Poland’s capital, and less than happy memories from my one and only previous visit – coinciding as it was to turn out with the momentous events of 11th September, 2001, extensive internet searches threw up the Zlote Deby as an attractive new hotel, crucially, advertising guarded car parking. HOTEL DESCRIPTION / OUR PERCEPTION FROM HOTEL PUBLICITY As the hotel’s own website is entirely in Polish, unusually not offering an English translation, I paid little attention to it, beyond a brief look at the photographs. If you are fluent Polish speaking then from their website you will glean that this is more of a business by week and wedding by weekend venue, rather than a tourist hotel in the way that we would conventionally recognise one. Indeed, photographs of the rooms are absent, whilst prominence is given to the downstairs “public” facilities such as the conference suite and bar / restaurant. None of the above would have put me off of booking a ...

Old Town (Stare Miasto), Warsaw 24/01/2017


Old Town (Stare Miasto), Warsaw WARSAW - SEPTEMBER 11th 2001 - REVISITED Until June this year (2011), I had, due to my first visit to Poland’s capital, reservations about returning to Warsaw. Not wishing to labour the point here, but our previous experience was, for two reasons, a rather moving one, that having absolutely nothing to do with Warsaw’s fascinating, but bloody history. On 11th September 2001, at 11.00am, my, then, wife-to-be had an appointment at the English Consulate, located in what I, at the time, assumed to be the very heart of Warsaw, almost opposite the immense Palace of Culture and Science. My Polish fiancé, partly due to the location of her family home, more closely allies herself with Krakow, and was far less familiar with, and decidedly less interested in, Warsaw. Primarily then, our two night stay there was regarded purely as a “business trip”. Business successfully conducted, in a state of rather tired elation; she had after all just been granted a marriage entry visa to the UK, we returned to our hotel to enjoy a celebratory meal..... .....The non-English speaking, elderly, waiter approached my fiancé, towards the end of the meal, to ask if her companion was English or American; he had just heard on television that there had been an air crash in New York...... ......the rest of that day, as they say, is history and may well explain why I had mixed feelings about returning to Warsaw at all. Before those momentous events, both personal and global, we had done a touch of ...
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