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Very sad to discover that almost half of my COT list haven't posted in the last 6 months - so I had a clean up. All still on alerts though.

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since 26/12/2005


Quadrille Publishing Ltd Liberty Iconic A5 Notebook/Journal 26/04/2015

The Pursuit of Happiness - and Liberty of course

Quadrille Publishing Ltd Liberty Iconic A5 Notebook/Journal Book him Danno! It's been a while since I blasted Ciao with far too many reviews of notebooks. It's fair to say that I'm rather obsessed and potentially even a little addicted. Hey, it doesn't hurt anyone and notebook obsession is pretty much a victimless crime. This will be my final Liberty notebook review as I've now worked through the stock, but certainly not my last notebook. I bought several excellent Liberty notebooks made by a company called Quadrille a few years ago through the website ‘’ and I’ve saved my favourite for last. This is the A5 hard-backed notebook/journal and it’s a beauty. Liberty is in the Eye of the Beholder For those who know Liberty, it’s many different things to different people – and to some it’s all these things. It’s the fabulous wonderland black and white store in London on Regent Street, a place that’s a beautiful as the many fabulous things it sells. Liberty is also known for its enormous range of fabric prints, designs that are instantly recognisable wherever you find them and classically associated with the Art Nouveau, Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts Movements. Finally – and rather more banally, it’s a brand that pops up on products that have never been near the actual store that gives Liberty its name. My notebook is not available in the store, indeed it’s several times cheaper than any notebooks sold there, but it takes a classic Liberty print and licenses both that print and the Liberty name, to a publishing company called ...

Hal's Kitchen, Atlanta 24/04/2015

To Hal and Back

Hal's Kitchen, Atlanta Hell's Kitchen? Before heading to the airport for my trip to Atlanta, Georgia this week, I quickly requested a few places I knew I'd be going – the aquarium and a couple of restaurants. I asked for Hal's Kitchen without actually knowing what it would be. I assumed it was a restaurant but it turned out to be something very different from what I'd expected. Four or five years ago, it became a bit of a trend in the company for which I work for people to arrange 'team building' sessions that involved cooking dinner together with your colleagues. This was quite 'interesting' for some groups – especially those that were predominantly male and rather senior as such people often couldn't find their way to their own toaster without a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. What wasn't such a bright idea was doing it with a large group that was mostly female. Four years back I attended a big marketing 'training' session in Frankfurt for which the organiser sent about 50 of us to a restaurant for a cooking lesson. It was a disaster. There were too many people, we all found that cooking dinner was no novelty since we did it whenever we were at home. We eventually ate at 11.30 pm and half the food was undercooked and the other half blitzed to a mush. I hated it. So when I realised that Hal's Kitchen wasn't a restaurant but a cookery school, my heart sank. Over half the group were still jet lagged from their flights and the idea of wasting all evening chopping stuff really had me ready to make ...

Le Cafe, Pondicherry 23/04/2015

Le Cafe? C'est execrable.

Le Cafe, Pondicherry The Prom - tiddly om pom pom The south-east Indian town of Pondicherry has a fantastic seafront promenade and a beautiful sandy beach. There are gorgeous old colonial French buildings, a beautiful light house and at night the police close off the road to make it pedestrian only. I don’t know if this is all year round or just during the time of our visit. The most remarkable thing about this long stretch of seafront is that there is only one cafe on the promenade. The next most remarkable thing is how bad it is and the almost criminal waste that has been made of the location. The cafe is close to the Mahatma Gandhi statue and is called ‘Le Cafe’ and it’s apparently run by the local council. I say let councils run the schools and do the rubbish collection but don’t give them control of food and drink. Introducing Le Cafe Le Cafe was not originally a cafe or restaurant and when you visit it you can see that it’s not well designed for its current purpose. It was apparently the customs house building for dealing with boats landing their wares at Pondicherry. It’s not a particularly attractive building - a rather blocky white building - but it has a fantastic location. On our first evening in the town we stopped there for a drink - sweet lime sodas and a bottle of water - and to check out the menu. We took a table at the back of the cafe overlooking the sea, where grubby looking waiters did their best to pretend we weren’t really there. Sadly the potentially excellent sea view ...

Remonte Warm Lined Biker Boots 22/04/2015

Cowboy meets biker meets dressage

Remonte Warm Lined Biker Boots Factory Shop For years I have been driving past the Rieker factory shop near Market Harborough without taking the small diversion to go and take a look. My parents always go when they visit - my stepfather has lots of their shoes - but in my mind I had just assumed they would sell rather clumpy orthopedic comfy shoes. I have been told off by German friends for my preconceived prejudices about German footwear and it has been suggested that I need to stop thinking that every German wears Birkenstocks. My husband and my neighbour had a bit of a blow-out when they stumbled across the Rieker stock clearance sale a couple of months ago and both insisted they would take me back to have a look at the weekend. I went, I browsed, I’ll admit some of the shoes weren’t as ugly as I suspected but I wasn’t particularly tempted. 50% off was a generous discount but nothing was grabbing my attention. Then the assistant started talking to me. She asked where I’d been that week, how did I cope with all the travel and I realised this woman I’d never met knew my life history and clearly my lovely husband had spent a lot of time chatting with her earlier in the week. She asked if I’d realised that I should ignore all the prices on the products as the discount was now 70% off. What’s 20% between friends? Well in this case, it’s enough to make me reconsider some of the shoes and boots I wasn’t quite sure about. I bought three pairs - a long, fleecy lined pair of tan coloured boots, a pair of ...

Mission Cafe, Pondicherry 21/04/2015

It's my mission to drink lots of iced coffee

Mission Cafe, Pondicherry Missionaries Our hotel in Pondicherry didn’t serve breakfast but that wasn’t a problem for us as we made the Mission Cafe into our brunch and coffee venue for most of our stay. Our hotel was just around the corner on a side street of Mission Street and it was a perfect place for us. By local standards it’s quite expensive but I'd still say it's slightly cheaper - and much better - than most of the local coffee bar chains such as Cafe Coffee Day or Barrista (two of the big locals) and the staff are a lot less surly. The cafe is slightly below street level and is approached down a small flight of stairs. Once inside it’s a small place with just a few tables. It's, bright and clean and staffed by a bunch of ultra-friendly ladies who appear to love both their products and their work. From their small work area the staff can watch the feet of passers-by walking along the street outside through the window which floods the cafe with light. There are few tables - from memory, I think it was three - and some bench seating around the walls. The seating is not terribly comfortable but it’s fine for a couple of drinks and a snack but this is not Starbucks with its over-stuffed sofas and armchairs. Despite the few tables, we never struggled to get one and we never felt any pressure to leave as they place was never full whilst we were there. The small tables are decorated with postcards and magazine clippings about coffee. I particularly liked the card which said: “I love you more ...

Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum 20/04/2015

I hoped it might change my mind about Caudalie serums - it didn't

Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum Once Bitten Twice Shy I was not impressed by the other Caudalie serum that I have tried which probably explains why my bottle of Caudalie Vinoperfect radiance serum sat on my shelf for a long time before I finally cracked it open to give it a go. My complaint about the other – the polyphenol serum that I reviewed last year – was that it felt very thin and watery and gave no noticeable impact on my skin. I tried to be open minded about trying the new one but inevitably memory and disappointment are powerful things Advice to Caudalie - fix the dropper The serum comes in a small glass bottle with a dropper. Mine is a 10 ml bottle and I suspect I probably got it in a mixed box set from the website which is where most of my Caudalie products have come from over the years. I haven’t had any experience of the full sized 30 ml serum bottles but I can only hope that the droppers are better when you are paying full price because the lousy dropper in my 10 ml bottles have tended to pick up more serum on their outside than on the inside. A little bit of history and some claims Caudalie specialise in ingredients extracted from grapes and I assume that’s why this is called Vinoperfect. Personally I would rather buy a few good bottles of wine than a small bottle of Vinoperfect serum. The claims for this particular serum are that it will correct and prevent dark spots, even your skin tone and boost the radiance of your skin because it contains something called ...

Hotel Coromandal, Pondicherry 19/04/2015

A cute little B&B in Pondicherry

Hotel Coromandal, Pondicherry Returning to the Coast I first went to Pondicherry on the south eastern coast of India more than a decade ago. I had been visiting the Chennai factory of the company I then worked for and they had encouraged me to take a day off and go down the coast. My husband was with me as we were about to start a tour of southern India and the company kindly booked us a car and driver and sent us on our way. To be honest, I think they just wanted to get me out from under their feet but they very kindly paid for the vehicle and we had a lovely day. We still saw a lot of the town and I vowed to go back some time. Last year I got round to keeping that promise to myself and I booked three nights at the Hotel Coramandal. Can you be TOO early? I tend to get a bit carried away with forward planning when it comes to my holidays. This year I had three trips booked up by the end of January and last year I started planning my India itinerary very early. I booked this hotel eight months before our actual visit. My Pondicherry planning was a bit of a panic. When I started looking in January, I found that there was almost no availability for October for Pondicherry or for our next stop, Mamalapurum. Knowing that we were going during a season of holidays - there are several that all collide around that time - I started to worry that possibly we would turn up during a holiday and not be able to get anywhere to stay. I had in mind the exact hotel where I wanted to stay, a place where we’d had lunch ...

Jaqua Spa Blooming Bergamot Body Butter 18/04/2015

I'll stick to taking my bergamot in my tea

Jaqua Spa Blooming Bergamot Body Butter TK Maxxing my Purchases Every few months I go on a TK Maxx frenzy looking for goodies in their toiletries department. I’ve found some amazing bargains over the years but occasionally I get some dodgy mistakes. Luckily, if I get it wrong, it’s not usually an expensive mistake. My 8 oz tub of Jaqua Spa Blooming Bergamot body butter was almost certainly a bargain at just £3 on their ‘reductions’ shelf but was it a good product or a great one? I’d never heard of Jaqua Spa and since the packaging claims it’s in Santa Barbara, I correctly deduced that it was an American brand. I suspected that there must be a spa in Santa Barbara that gives the products their name but googling around threw up no evidence and I now suspect there’s no spa - just a cosmetics company with Spa in their name. I was imagining a Californian ‘Sanctuary’ spa but it seems it only exists in my imagination. Why do I mention this? Well mostly because I found the company’s website very frustrating because it offers absolutely no details about the company or its ethics. If you wanted to buy this online from the Jaqua website, the RRP is $34 but it’s currently on offer for $18 making my £3 tub feel like a real bargain. What I got Depending on your perspective and attitude to packaging, the product is either very well presented or it’s over packaged. The body butter comes in a rather heavy duty black plastic tub which is inside a black cardboard box with a decorative black and green outer sleeve surrounding ...

Chaabi Chic, Essaouira 17/04/2015

Not so Shabby at Chaabi Chic

Chaabi Chic, Essaouira Serendipity - the best way to find restaurants I always like to use Tripadvisor to help me find restaurants when I go somewhere I don’t know well but I was really struggling with the listings for Essaouira. Far too many names seemed to be very similar and I was unable to find good maps to help navigate in search of restaurants. Looking through the listings, a few names stuck in my mind and one of those - probably because it made me laugh - was Chaabi Chic. I probably wouldn’t have gone hunting for it, but when we stumbled across it after going in search of the town’s Jewish quarter, I took it as a sign that we should go in. It’s one of the strange things about Essaouira that it had a thriving Jewish community for much of its history and even today, despite being in a Muslim country, there are several synagogues in the town. None of this has anything to do with Chaabi Chic - but we would not have found the place if it hadn’t been for this historic anomaly. First visit Our first visit was for drinks. We rolled up around noon but hadn’t long had breakfast so we were not ready to eat. The ground floor of the place is a sort of junk shop / collectables place - what the French would call ‘brocante’ and then the upper floor is the indoor restaurant and if you keep heading up the stairs, there’s a two story terrace on the top. Of course we went up and sat on the roof at the highest point, climbing some rather rickety metal stairs to get there. Sadly, there’s not much of a view ...

Swann OutbackCam Portable Video 5MP Camera & Recorder 16/04/2015

What are they doing when you're not watching?

Swann OutbackCam Portable Video 5MP Camera & Recorder Why I fancied a Cat Cam My interest in motion-activated wildlife cameras was piqued a few years ago when I was watching a documentary about Siberian tigers. I was stunned at the footage of both the tigers and an assortment of other critters wandering past the cameras and triggering their action. I remember commenting to my husband that I’d quite fancy having one of those. Just over a year ago, my parents had some problems with a pansy chucker. I know, sounds weird but let me explain. They live a little too close for comfort to a rather rowdy pub, and one night some of the pub’s clients came into their front garden, pulled up their winter pansies and threw them on the roof of their bungalow. I can understand it was very unsettling for them but I have to admit, I thought it was quite funny and the pansies went back in the ground, not too much the worse for wear. My stepfather was due to go into hospital for a complex operation and had got himself in a bit of a tizzy about leaving my mum at home when there were yobs about. We decided to get him a motion activated camera so that if anything were to happen, he’d have evidence to offer the police. And, once he calmed down and stopped worrying about yobs, he could use it to take photos of the birds on his bird table. The one we bought was not the Swann Outback but it was similar. A couple of months back, we learned that the camera was languishing somewhere in a cupboard and hadn’t been used in ages. I commented to my husband ...

Bestial, Barcelona 15/04/2015

Beastly? No, not at all

Bestial, Barcelona Second Time Around Last summer I ate at Bestial in Barcelona and thought it was a great place. I was going through a bit of a hiatus with Ciao at that time and even though I had put in a ‘suggestion’ to get Bestial added to the database, I never got round to writing about it. Last week I was really pleased to hear that we’d be going back and this time I was determined to get the review done. Tripadvisor lists Bestial at a rather unimpressive 1976th out of 6783 restaurants in Barcelona. This astonishes me - firstly that there can even BE nearly 7000 places to eat in the city but mostly that there could possibly be nearly 2000 better places. Why? Because I think this place is really great and I’m generally pretty fussy about restaurants. Bugs and Beaches Bestial is not the kind of name that would attract me. I feared it would be very meaty and that wouldn’t suit me at all as I don’t eat meat. Equally the giant black bugs decorating the outside windows as you approach from the street are pretty off-putting too - although it turns out that they are actually a fancy mural by the artist Frederic Amat (no, I’ve never heard of him). The restaurant is on San Sebastian beach, very close to the famous Hotel Arts and Frank Gehry’s giant silver fish. This is not far from the Olympic Port but is a much nicer as I personally loathe the Port Olympico restaurants with their over-priced seafood and aggressive waiters. There are several really good restaurants along this stretch of beach ...

L'Occitane Rose 4 Reines Hand Wash 14/04/2015

Fancy Paw Wash

L'Occitane Rose 4 Reines Hand Wash How much do you care about hand wash? Would I pay 17.00 a bottle for a hand wash? Do you think I’m crazy? Or made of money? Yeah, that’s what I thought when the lovely man in the L’Occitane shop started his sales pitch. He reels me in EVERY time. “Go on, guess how much this costs in the stores, go on”, he wheedles. I take a guess. I think of the most I can imagine and then double it and add a bit and I’m still wrong. “No,” says he triumphantly, “Seventeen pounds a bottle”. We both shake our heads in conspiratorial disbelief. We both know what comes next. “Go on, guess what I'm going to charge you?'" He says. I look at him with hope in my eyes but I'm unwilling to stick my neck out. I ask him to tell me. "Today, only £3.50” and I’m reeled in. The fact that 3.50 is still a lot for a plastic bottle of hand wash is instantly forgotten. He has successfully reset the bar of unreasonable expectations and suddenly it sounds just like a bargain and I’ve popped three in my basket. And that’s just the start of the spending spree. I've spent a tenner on plastic bottles of liquid soap and I'm feeling like a winner. Seriously, I need to readjust my financial thinking. I could go to Poundland and buy enough hand wash to last years and I've just been lured into buying fancy rosy goop. Shame on me and my L'Occitane addiction. How many queens? Rose 4 Reines (literally ‘4 Queens’) is so called because it’s supposed to contain the extracts of four different types of top grade rose ...

Beach & Friends, Essaouira 13/04/2015

Becoming Beach Bar Bums

Beach & Friends, Essaouira What's the opposite of a barfly? It’s really quite hard to imagine two human beings less likely to turn into the kind of people who would hang out at a swanky beach bar than my husband and me. We aren’t bar people, we aren’t normally very beachy people and we certainly aren’t ‘strip off your clothes and toast yourself on a sunbed people’. In short, if you could have gone down the beach looking for two people less likely to become ‘regulars’ at a Moroccan beach bar, you’d probably have picked have tossed up between me and my husband and a couple of women in full hijab. Holidays change people - clearly. Essaouira Essaouira is a beautiful old walled city on the Moroccan coast and it has an absolutely world class sandy beach which lures the adventure water sports set to play in its waters. There’s kite surfing, wind surfing, ordinary surfing and stand up paddle boarding for those who like to get wet - just check the wind speed and pick your ideal way of getting wet. You can also take horse rides on some of the most beautifully kept horses in north Africa, or if you have a desire to remove all the skin from your butt, there are plenty of grumpy looking camels ready to take you for a ride. Those who prefer their transportation to be mechanical can go for quad bike rides or the more traditional who have too many painful memories of camel rides, can resort to the good old fashioned habit of walking. We were walkers. In fact we walked up and down the beach every day of our six ...

VWC Age Evade Anti-Wrinkle Cream 12/04/2015

Wrinkles Are Gone - or was it Argan?

VWC Age Evade Anti-Wrinkle Cream I'll test most things Another member of this site contacted me earlier this year to ask if I’d be interested in testing some products for a company called Valerie Widmann Cosmetics and since I’m never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I said I would be happy to do so. Valerie Widmann asked me which products I’d like to try and I chose her cuticle oil and this product - the Age Evade Anti-Wrinkle Cream. The products arrived shortly after and I’ve been playing with them ever since. VWC products focus on natural extracts including argan oil and prickly pear seed oil and are imported from Morocco. Since I’ve been going to Morocco for about 10 years now, I was no stranger to argan oil and its allegedly near magical properties. When I first started going, the argan tree was just as famous for being the tree that goats will climb to eat its berries as it was for its culinary and beauty properties. There can be no tour group that ever went to Morocco that didn’t go home with photos of goats in argan trees. I had wondered how it could be possible that suddenly argan became the oil of the moment about six or seven years ago. I couldn’t work out how there could possibly suddenly be enough of the stuff in the world to meet the demands of every shampoo and face cream manufacturer. Valerie solved that mystery for me; much of the product now comes from China. Now if you work out that it takes many years for an argan tree to come to maturity, you really do have to wonder how the ...

Radley Oilskin Cross Body Bag 11/04/2015

Spot the Dog

Radley Oilskin Cross Body Bag What’s your bag? I have been told that training a husband is like training a dog; when they do something good you should praise them and encourage them to do it again, but when they do something bad, make clear that it’s not acceptable but it’s probably best not to rub their noses in it. A few years after we got married, my husband bought me my first Radley handbag. I reacted so positively that he’s been buying them for me two or three times a year ever since. I have an impressive collection. He once bought me a Mulberry bag and I didn’t say I didn’t like it but he worked it out when it seldom got used and went back to the safer Radley option. I’ve been a very lucky lady the last few weeks - getting one for my birthday a few days ago, and much more unexpectedly, getting a new oilskin cross-body bag for Valentines day a few weeks earlier. I don’t normally get Valentines day presents so that one was a real bonus. The new oilskin was to replace my old one which had seen so much service that it was starting to get a bit shabby. It was probably the single most used of all my Radleys and I had pretty much worn it into the ground. Whilst it’s far from the prettiest, most stylish or fancy of my bags, it was a perfect colour and it was ideal for my travelling lifestyle, holding a surprising amount of junk in its seeming rather small size. Oilskins Oilskin fabric is a sort of waterproof, wipe clean plastic-coated fabric, originally designed for keeping sailors dry. These days it’s ...
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