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since 05/07/2005


Ciao Competitions 23/02/2006

A Winnnaaaa speaks out.

Ciao Competitions I entered the travel comp last september, with the prizes advertised as follows; 1. Win two nights in the 4 star hotel "Pineta Palace di Roma" in Rome, sponsored by our partner Venere (available between november 15th and november 26th). 2. In addition, you can win a digital camera "Oregon DS 6639" provided by Pixmania Pro. 3. 15 winners will receive free developing of 50 photos from MyPixmania. 4. And the best three reviews will be awarded Ciao diamonds I was informed that I had won the comp - yes first prize - by email on the 25th Oct and, as I don't check my mail much, by phone call on the 4th Nov. Scenes of jubilation followed, featuring wide smiles and laughter, phone calls to the girlfriend and our friends, random shouting of italian words and a quick check on the net to see who Lazio were playing that weekend ;-) Once the initial euphoria had worn off, however, more practical matters had to be organised, and things started to go pear shaped at an alarming rate. Firstly, I contacted ciao to ask what exactly the prize included, and it turned out to be accommodation only. No flights, no transfers, no food. Next, I looked around online for cheap flights but, surprise surprise, the short notice meant that I couldn't get an flights cheaper than 100 quid returns. Throw in transfers and it was going to cost me 300 quid plus the cost of eating in a 4* hotel to collect my prize! Now for 300 quid i could have a week's package holiday to the sun in the summertime, or a ...

Chapelco 27/09/2005

Andean Holidayin'

Chapelco I planned on spending a couple of days in the Argentinian ski resort of Chapelco as part of a snowboard trip to Chile. We checked into a hostel, checked out the resort, and then it started snowing… and just didn't stop, the snow gods resetting the conditions to "knee deep powder" every night for a week. It could have been utopia if it wasn't for the agony of stiff muscles and the nagging worry that the road back to Chile was blocked by the storm and my Santiago flight departure was rapidly approaching. I've abandoned a traditional review in favour of taking questions from the floor. * So where is it then? The town of San Martin is in the province of Neuquén, 1.575 km SW of Buenos Aires and only 45 km from the Chilean border. You can reach it by flight of bus from the argentinian capital, or by the worlds slowest bus across the border from Pucon in Chile. This route takes you up over a snow-covered mountain pass complete with military checkpoint which always takes at least an hour due to the time zone change ;-). The ski resort of Chapelco is located about 20km out of town, and can be accessed by bus or hitch hiking, although hitch hiking is a bit slower here than it is in Chile, you may have to wait up to an hour for a ride, although this was in shoulder/low season. * Sounds interesting. What is the town like? Its another gem. Situated on a lake and next door to a mountainous national park it's a popular holiday destination for the locals. Building regulations ...

Hotel Ansgar, Esbjerg 26/09/2005

3 star hotel in the centre of Esbjerg, Denmark.

Hotel Ansgar, Esbjerg If you want a decent place to stay in the centre of town, this is probably going to be the cheapest option. Clean and cosy rooms, friendly staff, breakfast included and within crawling distance of most of the town's watering holes. Local Info: If you take the ferry to Denmark from the UK, Esbjerg is the town you end up in. The centre of the town is a pedestrianised shopping street, and at its heart is a wide open square flanked by pavement cafes. If anything is happening in Esbjerg this is where it will be, and the Hotel Ansgar is just round the corner. Some distances: About a ten-minute walk to the ferry terminals for the UK and for Fano, a small island just off the coast which is well worth a visit. 5 minutes the other way takes you to the train and bus station. Esbjerg airport is out of town, 10-15mins by taxi. The tourist information office is located on the main square, under a minute away if you run. There are bars annd restaurants in the square too, and an Irish pub called Paddys with English staff can almost be reached by a big jump from the hotel steps. Hotel description: The hotel is an old building which has been carefully renovated "to preserve it's character" It is situated on the street "skolegade," and there is car parking round the back, accessed via a narrow archway between the hotel and "paddys" pub. The Hotel car park itself is small, but if your car is only left overnight there are other spaces here which can be used - check with reception. ...

Poetry for fun 25/09/2005

Got me a mofo'in liner, white boy.

Poetry for fun Posted as a reply to a great op by 29thCandidate, Entitled "29TH-RAP: "Yer Gonna Need A Bigger Boat," Bitch!" Game on: Nice to see a true emcee communicatin' truths wit' me, A conscience speaking out about the mindless sightless way that we Burn all our time and NRGee on writing shit that helps ciao be A profitable corporate entity - and we do it all for just 1p I take your open mike invite and toss it in yo' face allright? I just don't need that sort of shite which realistic-ally just might, Distract me from the path of light, from typing my reviewing trite, If you ain't sure Cap-it-a-lisme's right …………………...just bite. You fall into the schoolboy trap of writing all this "café" crap, Rhymes and rap? It's pointless pap, that's spoolin' from your droolin' trap. Ciao pays for my keyboard tap-tap-tap: What's yours worth you lifeless sap? Under yo' cap is just a gap - reminds me of Bush an' his world peace road map …………………….…. SLAP! Huntin' pound signs is the game, those coloured dots are just too lame, Review from a green or a purple dame - it don't mean shit - the text's the same. Wit' out da money drivin' yo' brain, you got no chance - this rhyme will maim An' ain't that just a cryin' shame for your inane, muppet-baitin' game I do my bit of eating shit, edit, edit, until the two-bit git, devoid of wit, Stops pickin' nit and just LEAVES IT! Hauls arse at last from off my tit, Leaving me free at last to sit, wit' real world cash flowin' to my ...

Esbjerg Hostel, Esbjerg 24/09/2005

Budget accommodation in Esbjerg, Denmark.

Esbjerg Hostel, Esbjerg If the Encyclopædia Britannica ever decides to create a virtual hostel to communicate exactly what a hostel looks like, they probably ought to model it on this one. It does everything that a hostel should do, and not a single late-night-beer more. As with any hostel, there are a number of positives and negatives compared to a hotel - in case you have forgotten here is a reminder of some of them. Positives. * Cheapest prices in town - 120kr (10GBP) for a bed in a shared room, and a single room from 310kr (30GBP), although you need another 35kr(3GBP) to join the hostelling organisation if you aren't already a member. * Clean rooms, clean sheets. * A good communal area with a nice big, clean kitchen, internet Access, and a TV lounge. * In a quiet area, and with the curfew you can be assured a good night's sleep. * Friendly guests and helpful staff. * You can book online, in advance Negatives. * As noted above, you have to be a member of the YHA to stay there. * It's a lot further out of town than the hotels - too far to walk in comfort. * The showers and toilets are down the hall and not en-suite. * Breakfast costs extra (and there aren't any shops that are really close) * You make your own bed. * No noise after midnight. Stuff that sets this place apart. It's a great building with a good atmosphere The building itself is huge and made of red brick, and looking down into the courtyard from one of the narrow iron windows it feels a bit like being in ...

Aural Pleasure (Limited Edition) - Various Artists 24/09/2005

Timeless dance music.

Aural Pleasure (Limited Edition) - Various Artists Dance music compilation? All sounds the same, doesn't it? Yeah, very funny. Dance music has been mainstream for around 15 years now, and in that time it has produced some good tunes, not all of which been played to death in clubs and on the radio. More than just another "this week I have mostly been playing…" selection from the latest superstar DJ, this is a compilation with some thought behind it. Fantazia have been around from the very beginnings of the dance music scene, organizing raves back in the early 90's, and have released a number of the very first dance compilations, including "The first taste" back in '92, which must be one of the all-time earliest dj-mixed dance music compilations. Not slow to spot the wave of dance music compilations they had helped to set in motion, Fantazia jumped on it, releasing the "house collection" and "club classic" series, but the roots of the company have always been in "happy hardcore" - "uplifting house" - "progressive house" - call it what you want - and it is here that they return to with this double CD. Released in 1990 it's getting on a bit now, but that isn't really the point. With fantazia, if you haven't heard the CD itself and aren't a regular at Londons dance clubs most of the music is going to be new-to-you anyway. As usual, there is a selection of genuinely good dance music, a blend of big names and acts that I have never heard of, often working as producer/remixer to either give a new slant to an old favourite or ...

Pucon, Argentina 23/09/2005

Dice with death - visit a Ski Resort on a Volcano.

Pucon, Argentina Possibly founded by the same people that thought building houses below water level in New Orleans was a good idea, Pucón is small town in the South of Chile, located in an area Mamma nature designed as a playground for her best pals. Shady forests, winding rivers, a beautiful lake, a perfect conical volcano, geothermal springs… You can go fly fishing, horse riding, white-water rafting, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, mountain biking, hiking, or, as I was planning to, snowboarding. Getting there The nearest airport is at Santiago, some 800 kilometers to the North. I paid around 550GBP for a return flight (Spanair or LanChile) in September time, which is late winter /early spring. From Santiago you can either hire a car or take the bus down. The national bus company Turbus runs an overnight service to Temuco, which takes about 8 hours and costs around 10USD economy. Another 5USD will get you sufficient wine to enable you to sleep for the whole trip - this is money well spent. Once in Temuco you can get a local bus over to Pucon. Pucon Pucon is a holiday town, built up to cater for Chileans coming to relax in the area and slowly being adopted by the global backpacking community. It is sandwiched between a picturesque lake to the North and a steaming conical volcano (very much active) to the south. The atmosphere is as laid back as you would expect in a place where at least half the people you meet are on holiday, and in September it was not too busy, with the ski ...

River of Death - Alistair MacLean 22/09/2005

Straightforward thriller from an old master.

River of Death - Alistair MacLean Alistair Maclean is a great writer, and has produced a number of classic thrillers, including "The Guns of Navarone" and HMS Ulysses." Unfortunately, he spent the money earned from his earlier works along similar lines to the way George Best spent his footballers wages, and books written later on in his career, such as this one, pay the price. In my opinion, Alistair Maclean books come under a distinct style of novel - thrillers written by male authors 25-50 years ago. The plots are good, the leading men are witty and resourceful and the bad guys find ever more surprising ways to squander a position of dominance. There is no sex, negligible swearing by today's standards, no graphical descriptions of violence and no girl power. There are abundant one liners, fistfights, shoot-outs and plot twists, often requiring a suspension of ones belief in the laws of chance. I consider Ian Fleming (James Bond), Leslie Charteris (The Saint), and the earlier books by Dick Francis and Wilbur Smith to be in a similar style, and I gotta say, it's a style I like. The plot in this case revolves around a search for a lost city in the jungles of South America, spiced with the suspicion that a consignment of Nazi gold that went missing in the second world war will turn up somewhere along the line. After a great start to the book introducing the plot, the story gets a little bogged down in the jungle along with the cast, and builds with all too few twists towards a suitably cataclysmic ...

Canon IXUS X-1 Compact Camera 21/09/2005

A water resistant camera that isn't yellow!

Canon IXUS X-1 Compact Camera The blurb for this camera announces "outstandingly designed" and for once it isn't just hyperbole. It's lightweight and small enough to take anywhere without inconvenience, it can be immersed in water, sand, snow, mud or beer with no ill-effects, it's easy to use even if you have gloves and goggles on, and it comes without the social stigma of a canary yellow case. There is no doubt that some serious thought has gone into this camera, it really is designed to be used in places where you would not normally be taking your camera along. How it works: The Japanese genius responsible for this design (bless his chopsticks) has cunningly located the film and battery access points in a waterproof compartment. The whole of the bottom of the camera (the black bit on the picture) is a hinged door, which can be opened up to change film over or access the fiddly little buttons to set the camera time/date/text annotation options. Nice features: The shutter release button is huge - easy to hit with cold and/or gloved fingers. The operation mode knob is knurled and also easy to operate with gloved fingers. The film rewind button is recessed into the top of the camera and I have never operated this by mistake. The spring-loaded knob for opening the waterproof film loading compartment is similarly impossible to open accidentally. The viewfinder is nice and big, you can see what you are photographing no problem through a diving mask or ski goggles. Lightweight (220g) and small ...

General: Canary Islands 20/09/2005

Swimming in the Canaries?

General: Canary Islands I like active holidays and the Canary Islands have to be about as good as it gets for a beach holiday. I surf and windsurf with more enthusiasm than talent, and enjoy checking out the places I end up in. I have visited Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, and had a good time on both islands - here is what I have experienced: Climate. I have always travelled in autumn - September/October time and I have encountered consistently warm weather. Not too hot, just nice and warm in the daytime and pleasantly cool in the evenings and early mornings. It's often cloudy on one side of the island too, although with a car you usually seem to be able to drive somewhere sunny. The water is surprisingly cool - cooler than most places in the Mediterranean - and with the consistent winds a thin wetsuit is necessary if you are planning on spending a long time in it. Scenery. The islands are volcanic - and it shows. Most of the landscape is barren brown rock, and what little vegetation there is tends to be burnt brown by the sun. In some places the hillsides have been divided up into little square fields by drystone walls and a local farmer can be seen tending his crop of … rocks? Maybe September-October is just after harvest season for crops in the Canaries. On a positive note, there are a lot of volcanic hills on the islands, and it is no problem to park up at the foot of them and take a 30-minute walk to the top, where you will often be rewarded by a great view. The beaches on the islands ...

Member Feedback on Ciao Product Ratings 21/07/2005

Ciao - Home of the perfect review?

Member Feedback on Ciao Product Ratings There is a scientific basis for the possibility that websites such as Ciao can provide a perfect review of their subject, providing a database that reviews each subject in such a manner that everyone can find the information they need to make their buying decision. Sounds like nonsense, I know, and there are some important prerequisites that have to be met first, but there is actually a fair bit of evidence to show that this could be the case in the future. I have recently read a book ("the Wisdom of Crowds" - Not yet available to review on Ciao) which showed how large numbers of people from a diverse range of backgrounds make a much better job of solving impossibly difficult problems than any individual can. Problems like finding a single monetary value for an enormous diversified, multinational company such as Shell, for example, or predicting the future result of a horse race, or evaluating where the best value for money lies in the digital camera market. The best example given is that of an attempt to disprove the political voting system. In 1906 a statistician at a West country fair was watching a competition where passers-by were attempting to guess what the weight of an ox would be after it had been slaughtered. He realised that many of those taking part had limited or no knowledge of livestock and/or the butchering process, similar to the way that many voters have limited or no knowledge of political issues (and ciao users have limited/no knowledge of the ...

Douala (Cameroon) 16/07/2005

Chancing it in Cameroon.

Douala (Cameroon) "Staaaaan-ley! This is another fine mess you've got me into." - Oliver Hardy. Back in the days when I worked offshore this quote pretty much summed up the unofficial offshore staff response to being told they were required to visit West Africa. Most field staff would rather work aboard a nice, clean, modern boat in the North Sea than an aging boat with dilapidated equipment that meant it was forever popping in and out of the steaming, malodorous, cockroach-infested, run down and beaten up ports of West Africa. It wasn't all bad though, and more by luck than judgement I had some entertaining moments in the area, especially in Douala, Cameroon, where our boat was based. *Weather* Cameroon is unfeasibly hot, in the same damp, energy sapping way that a sauna is hot. It is also wet, with seasons where it rains at the same time every day in the middle of the afternoon, and other seasons where it just seems to rain the entire time. And the word "rain" doesn't really do the Cameroon rain justice. It comes down like a solid curtain of water. Stepping into a good rainstorm here is like stepping into a nice warm shower at home. You will be soaked to the skin within 15 seconds, but pleasantly warm anyway. *First Impressions* First on the agenda was almost always a stop in the nearest bar to the docks. Anyone that lives in a working port will know that the dockside bars are not usually frequented by the cities high rollers and trendsetters, and so it is in Douala. The ubiquitous ...

Out of the Vein (Parental Advisory) [PA] - Third Eye Blind 15/07/2005

Out of this world.

Out of the Vein (Parental Advisory) [PA] - Third Eye Blind Why could Oasis never crack the states? Part of the reason could be that US indie/rock bands like Francisco-based "third eye blind" are so damn good. "Out of the vein" is the third and, for my money, best album by this largely ignored (in the UK) band. If you haven't heard the music before, it is excellent in a similar way to Oasis or The Chilli Peppers. Great tunes based around guitars and drums provide the platform for the band's clever lyrics. The distinctive voice of the lead singer and smooth production make for great songs that are easy to listen to, catchy, and just plain good. Track Listing: I have stuck a track listing on here with the intention of summarising the songs, but after writing "another great indie song" four times I have given up and just picked out my favourites. 1. Faster Sets the pace for the first half of the album. Solid track which tempts you in 2. Blinded - one of the stand out songs - great indie music. 3. Forget Myself 4. Danger 5. Crystal Baller - this is a great song. Good chorus and a nice rythm. 6. My Hit and Run 7. Misfits - One of my all-time favourites. Great lyrics, classic melody. 8. Can't Get Away 9. Wake for Young Souls - Slower paced again - and that's a good thing. 10. Palm Reader 11. Self Righteous 12. Company 13. Good Man Comparison to their other work: The band has released two other albums, "Blue" and "Third Eye Blind" but while the earlier ones contained a sprinkling of good songs (the biggest being semi ...

Advice for New Members 14/07/2005

Ciao - How much are we revealing?

Advice for New Members Do you need to be extroverted to write reviews? How much of your personality can people find out about on Ciao? No you don't and Not much would have been my answers to these two questions before embarking on a review writing career which so far spans ten days. I have never been impressed by stories of online romance, and as somebody who is good at assessing personality from peoples faces and actions I was convinced that without a photo and with a bare sentence of personal information I would remain completely anonymous online. Now, I am not so sure. Checking the most recent reviews I have written, there are: 2 about financial info on the internet 2 general travel 1 travel based "everything starts…" review in response to comment on one of my travel articles. 2 products (1 snowboard related, one projector TV) 2 music (electronic) 2 snowboard resort/travel 2 books (one novel, one scientific/psychological. 1 internet site (a franglais destruction of a ciao link to a French language betting site) Sounds like a common enough selection, but on closer examination, it's me! What are my interests? Well, travelling, and snowboarding would be two of my biggest, and I enjoy investing on the stock markets. My liking for more than a pint comes across clearly in my travel reviews, as does my willingness to visit strange places. How do I relax? I like a good book and electronic music, but also enjoy watching sport on TV. What is my personality like? My friends and colleagues ...

The Rule of Four - Dustin Thomason, Ian Caldwell 14/07/2005

A book about a book within a book.

The Rule of Four - Dustin Thomason, Ian Caldwell When I picked up "The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell, the review on the cover read "If you liked the Da Vinci code, dive into this!" - so I did, only to find myself swimming through treacle. To adopt another sporting analogy, if the Da Vinci code is a golfing par, this book is a good five strokes over. The card of the (slightly unconventional) 5-hole course reads as follows: 1st hole: Storyline. Score: par. The basic premise of the book is that an ancient text contains riddles which, when correctly deciphered, will allow the reader to decipher a text-within-the-text, leading the reader to a vast trove of Renaissance treasure. The author of the ancient text lived in Italy during the Renaissance, and has incorporated a vast number of diverse influences into his riddles, ranging from Egyptian hieroglyphics through the sciences to renaissance art. The book is now being deciphered by a pair of students at Princeton University. It's a good idea for a book and the desire to find out what happens at the end will sustain your interest. 2nd hole: Storyline construction. Score: bogey (cannot find fairway.) The book is written as a monologue, with flashbacks from the present to the character's childhood. The timing and interest levels of these interludes don't exactly help the plot along, and the end result is that much of the book is heavy going, with some passages leaving you wondering "what was the point of that?" Later on in the book it comes to you - not, as in the da vinci ...
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