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since 28/07/2000


Hotel Chocolate 01/12/2004

Hotel Chocolat Paradise

Hotel Chocolate The news item on the radio said that women who eat chocolate enjoy a more fulfilling sexual life and are more eager and ready for sex than their non-chocolate-eating sisters! So when the colour brochure arrived, tantalisingly slipped in-between the pages of my Sunday newspaper, I decided it was worth a second look. The 'Hotel Chocolat' Christmas Catalogue 2004 offering chocolates for you or someone else with free delivery anywhere in the UK certainly caught my attention. By the time I'd reached page nine of these thirty three pages with beautiful photographs offering all manner of feasts of chocolate I was enthralled by the selections being offered. I was smitten. Hotel Chocolat is 100% British owned and has been run by the original founders, Angus Thirwell and Peter Harris, for the last ten years. They have impressively made over three million successful chocolate deliveries during that time and I could sense there was one more order about to be completed. Although the brochure emphasised the Christmas Season there are plenty of delicious classic chocolates for the connoisseur - to be ordered, delivered and eaten for no reason at all. However - I had Christmas in mind so focussed on the seasonal specialities. Before I went any further I was interested in the ethical approach of Hotel Chocolat so visited their excellent website and was pleased to read that they are helping to rejuvenate old cocoa tree plantations in Ghana thus boosting farmers' incomes. They are ...

The Yangtze Gorges 11/11/2004

Up A Foggy River

The Yangtze Gorges Fourteen weary Jules Verne tourists climbed off the coach that had taken them from the city of Shanghai to the River Port of Zhenjang on the Yangtze to board their cruise ship the MV Victoria Rose and their eight night journey upstream along the Yangtze River in China ending at the river city of Chongqing. We shouldn't have been that weary. Six intriguing days and nights spent in Beijing and finally Shanghai had been fascinating. Our minds were full of the exciting images we'd seen. Our bodies were weary with the walking and climbing we'd done – but our weariness was more to do with a coach journey that should have taken three hours from Shanghai to the River Port. The fact that China is under construction meant that the motorway from Shanghai to the River Port was still being built as we drove on it, resulting in the journey taking nine hours. The road was so rough that we spent the entire time either hitting the roof of the coach with our heads or jarring our spines on the seats. All of us were dreaming of a relaxing cruise with the highlights being our visit to the new Three Gorges Dam site and to see the magnificence of The Three Gorges before the completion of the Dam in 2009 submerges The Three Gorges leaving just the peaks as islets above water. But how relaxing was this cruise going to be? The Yangtze River in China is the third longest river in the world after the Amazon and the Nile. The River Yangtze is over three and a half thousand miles long with more than ...

General: Beijing 19/10/2004

The Temple of Extreme Moisture

General: Beijing In China the people say they will eat anything with four legs – except a chair and anything with two wings – except an airplane. Thus we were well prepared for our first evening in the capital of China, Beijing, as our local Chinese guide Jackie took fourteen exhausted UK Voyagers Jules Verne travellers through the open air street market in this remarkable city. Three hundred and sixty five days a year from 6.00 am until midnight and in all the extreme weathers these fast-food stalls line the street by the hundred preparing and cooking food for the hungry passers-by. But what food; Skewers crammed with plucked sparrows; skinned frogs; wriggling scorpions; silk worm cocoons and water rat; all ready to be stir fried and grilled, served and eaten on the go. Snake-burger anyone? Delicious steamed dumplings seemed to be normal fare on this bustling food street and we weren't really shocked at the skewers of scorpions – after all we eat prawns don't we? So what was our itinery for the sixteen night visit to China? Our holiday was booked with Voyagers Jules Verne and charmingly named 'The Original Yangtze Cruise' as eight nights of our sixteen were to be spent sailing up the vast Yangtze River to include the new Three Gorges Dam and the Three Gorges as they are now before the dam is completed in 2009 and drowns another eighty metres of the mountains that make this part of the Yangtze River so recognisable. The remaining eight nights were to be spent in five star hotels in the ...

General: Croatia 26/06/2004

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

General: Croatia The Croatians say that if you count the number of spots on a Dalmatian dog you will find that there are over two thousand of them – as many spots as there are islands along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Our ship, the M/S Dalmacija, was to take us from the Port of Venice, across the Adriatic and then we were to cruise through the islands, isles and reefs of Dalmatia docking and disembarking at several historic towns and cities such as Split and Dubrovnik, with a brief visit to Corfu and Montenegro and then returning to Venice for a last spectacular evening viewing Venice by night in a motorboat. Are you excited – because we certainly were? The M/S Dalmacija's main claim to fame was that it was used to film scenes for the film 'The Talented Mr Ripley' adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith and starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. It was clearly the oldest ship we had sailed on and had an air of faded grandeur about it, but it had a charming Croatian crew, a swimming pool, Lido bar, a Grand Salon and a very attractive restaurant and most importantly with just the one sitting as a two sitting restaurant is a nightmare to avoid on any cruise ship. Once shown to our cabin I instantly refused to sleep in a cabin with no windows or portholes (It felt like an underwater coffin) and we managed to organise an alternative cabin with two portholes then I was happy. I think Morty took me seriously when I told him there was no way there'd be any sex in this underwater tomb so we'd ...

Sisley Eau Du Soir Eau de Parfum 20/04/2004

Scent of a Woman

Sisley Eau Du Soir Eau de Parfum I truly thought i knew everything about classic French perfumes and the established French design and perfume houses. The names Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, and Guerlain et al roll off my lips as easily and lovingly as Al Pacino, Robert de Nero and Edward Norton-all top totty in their own particular genre. I am able to identify classic French perfumes at a distance with one sniff, but it took my 2003 Christmas gift from my mum to wake me up and shake me out of my complacency and make me question, “Sisley! Who are they? I've never heard of them!” where have I been, and most importantly, how have I missed out on what is regarded as the most beautiful perfume in the world? Apart from the distinctive fragrances of the classic French perfumes they all have a history and a story to tell. Many of them were created with one person in mind and named after them, perhaps an empress, a princess or a film star. The original designs of the beautiful glass flasks they are presented in are frequently a product of the glass makers and the perfumers collaborating to make an object of beauty to compliment the fragrance itself as well as adorn a dressing table or boudoir. The ingredients were usually natural combinations of flowers, herbs and spices, unlike many modern chemically enhanced perfumes which remind me of toilet cleansers and can be overpowering and rather offensive in public places. I always open gifts from my mum to me in eager anticipation as she has impeccable taste and knows ...

Grand Hotel Torquay Devon UK 12/04/2004

Grand by Name and Grand by Nature

Grand Hotel Torquay Devon UK So for the second time in two months I am looking at a large framed portrait of Agatha Christie hanging in pride of place in the foyer of a luxurious hotel. The first time was in February 2004 in The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt where Agatha Christie stayed while she wrote 'Death on the Nile'. The second time was in The Grand Hotel, Torquay in Devon – I wonder? Did she write a mystery thriller called 'Death on the English Riviera'? The Grand Hotel in Torquay is an architecturally beautiful large Victorian and Art-Deco white painted building set in its own gardens framed with the ubiquitous Torbay palms and only 100 yds from Torquay railway station. The hotel is situated on the sea front in the popular seaside resort of Torquay with wonderful views of Torbay, also rightfully known as the English Riviera. We arrived at 1.00 pm. on a Sunday parking our car in the Grand Hotel's free residents' covered garages and walking into the impressive and welcoming reception area dispelled any misgivings we had about staying for two nights in this AA Four**** and Rosette awarded hotel. Why misgivings? Well, just think of boiled cabbage, swirly patterned carpets and a dreadful stuffy atmosphere and sense of faded glory that many English seaside resort hotels conjure up. We knew at once this was going to be a good experience. The first impression given to a guest arriving at The Grand Hotel is the view through the reception area through a lounge and into The Compass Bar. The ...

Chanel Compact Creme Universel 17/03/2004

I Do Coco Chanel

Chanel Compact Creme Universel Within a period of three years two major cosmetic houses have stopped manufacturing my favourite skin foundations. One product was priced at the upper end of the range and the other was medium priced. Both products were worth every penny as they suited my colouring and skin texture; so much so that I would use every last drop of the foundation and replace them at once with the same product-until they became suddenly unavailable. Consequently, I have been searching for that special formula ever since and at a considerable financial and image conscious cost. Other products have promised me a wonder finish, a flawless finish, a hyper-smooth finish, an enhanced finish and a luminous finish. It seems that the reason I have around nine various foundations, all partly used, costing seven to ten pounds an item is that none of them proved satisfactory. Chanel Compact Crème Universel has fulfilled all the criteria a gal like me was searching for to replace the previous favourites. I do want an even, smooth, luminous and radiant complexion and the Chanel multi-vitamin fresh cream makeup with SPF 15 is simply magical. It's my own fault I didn't buy this product before because I had read a lot of praise about it on various online beauty forums but I balked at the twenty-six pounds it would cost me. How nonsensical is that when the nine disappointing foundations I have bought that are useless cost me at the very least sixty three pounds in total, that's what I call a false economy and ...

L'Oreal Double Extension Mascara 08/03/2004

Clumpy and Brittle or Lengthened and Silky

L'Oreal Double Extension Mascara If you saw a list of words like the following: 'Finity-Calorie-Extension-Builder-Art-Architect-Curl-Discovery' which beauty product enters your mind? Is it mascara-because this is what these words represent? I have a dozen or so mascaras regimentally laid out in front of me like a row of soldiers. All of them have been part used and then abandoned as none of them do the job I want them to. I want a mascara that lengthens and thickens my eyelashes; I want a mascara that doesn't clog them into blackened clumps but remain individual; I want a mascara that doesn't smudge but is easily removed by my preferred cleansing routine; I want a mascara that leaves my eyelashes soft and nourished and not brittle and hard; I want a mascara that doesn't irritate my eyes; I want my mascara to have a neat brush that doesn't stick in my eye when I apply; Some of the mascaras laid out in front of me reach some of my expectations, but none of them achieve all of them. I bought L'Oreal Double Extension by mistake as I thought I was buying L'Oreal Lash Architect in the silver tube. As soon as I removed the wand from the packaging it seemed very bulky and with good reason as it is double ended. One end is black mascara with applicator and the other end is white mascara again with applicator. I almost returned it unused to Superdrug as the very idea of white mascara appalled me. However, the white mascara acts as a primer base coat on the lashes to be followed by the ultra-lengthening mascara. ...

Aswan (Egypt) 05/03/2004

A Swan in Aswan

Aswan (Egypt) Half an hour after disembarking from the MS Prince Abbas after our week long cruise on Lake Nasser we were waiting with our luggage on the East Bank of the River Nile in Aswan as we watched the Pharoanic Barge make its way across the river from Elephantine Island to transport us back to our home for a further week-The Hotel Oberoi situated on this palm covered island in the middle of the Nile. Nothing had prepared us for the beauty we were about to experience. This stretch of the Nile between the city of Aswan, the Old Dam and the High Dam and Lake Nasser is scattered with islands. Ancient Aswan was originally sited on Elephantine Island as it could be easily defended against invaders from any direction. That ancient city has long disappeared and Elephantine Island can only be reached by the boats and feluccas that freely taxi visitors to and fro, day and night. The ancient city of Aswan was once the largest trading centre for Upper Egypt exchanging goods from equatorial Africa and the Mediterranean. Aswan lies on the first cataract of the Nile which acted as a natural insurmountable barrier for river traffic as the bubbling waterfalls, rocks and torrents were impossible for boats to navigate. South of Aswan goods had to be carried by caravan across the barren Nubian Desert. However, the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s changed everything. Damming the Nile and diverting the Nile flood waters into the artificial Lake Nasser has now established the pretty city of ...

Abu Simbel (Egypt) 18/02/2004

Sailing Through The Desert

Abu Simbel (Egypt) The Nubians call it 'The Nubian Sea' while the rest of Egypt named it Lake Nasser. Not surprising the Nubians call it that as in order to create the Lake in the 1960s the Nasser government penned up the Nile behind the High Dam and the dammed waters flooded the Nubian Desert area in Upper Egypt to create a 300 mile long inland sea. This meant that forty Nubian villages and towns and forty thousand Nubians had to be re-housed as their homes vanished beneath the rising waters. But it wasn't just the Nubian people who were in danger of being submerged -but many of the ancient Nubian monuments south of Aswan including the most famous and imposing 3000 year old temples and statues of Ramesees 11 at Abu Simbel. Once the High Dam was built, an amazing feat by Soviet engineers, the Nubian Desert began to slowly fill with Nile waters, an estimated time of six years, when the Egyptian government sent out a worldwide plea for help as the lake was forming faster than at first thought and it was evident that the Temple at Abu Simbel would be swallowed up by the rising waters. An international team of around three thousand construction engineers from all over the world under the backing from UNESCO laboured for almost five years to salvage these massive ancient temples and move them just sixty five metres up a cliff block by block and rebuild them aiming to make them appear as if they had never been disturbed. Fortunately this grand scheme raised the issue of other Nubian monuments ...

Bruges (Belgium) 04/01/2004

Venice of the North

Bruges (Belgium) We had booked our three night break in Bruges through the Sunday Times Leisure Direction. On paper this appeared to be a four day break to be taken in the period between Christmas and New Year but we failed to take too much notice of the travelling time involved in getting from West Dorset to Bruges. Our best option would have been to fly from Bristol to Brussels but we had set our hearts on journeying by Eurostar from Waterloo International to Brussels as a first time experience that had to be done at least once in a lifetime. Yes, Eurostar must be heaven to those who live in London and the South East and within easy access to Waterloo or Ashford in Kent but to fellow West Country travellers-beware. We left home by car at 8.00 am to catch the 9.00 am South-West Train direct to Waterloo London due to arrive at 11.30 am. This left us with one hour and ten minutes to simply cross the concourse and take our pre-booked seats on the Eurostar at 12.40 pm. Unfortunately our 9.00 am SW train broke down at Bournemouth. We waited while they divided a ten coach train into two five coach trains resulting in a crowded train with passengers standing and waving goodbye to any booked seats. Worse was to come when we were told we had no train driver. Well we did have a driver but he was on his way in a taxi. I needn't describe my internal panic as we watched the minutes tick by. The panic was exacerbated when I had a closer read of our travel documents. Not only did we have to be in the ...

Dangerous Lady - Martina Cole 24/12/2003

Thank Goodness it was the Free One

Dangerous Lady - Martina Cole I seem to favour women authors. Taking advantage of the WH Smith offer of 'Buy two paperbacks-get the third free' I had selected two novels by two excellent writers, Patricia Cornwell and Margaret Atwood leaving me to choose one more book. I had seen the name of Martina Cole in the No: 1 bestselling lists and noted there were several of her novels lining the shelves. Not having read her before I selected her first ever bestseller 'Dangerous Lady' written ten years ago and now re-printed to celebrate her phenomenal success over the last decade. I'm sure Martina Cole is a very nice lady and I applaud her success as a best selling author but I have never read such drivel in my life. Well I have-I have read Catherine Cookson just the once; I have read Jackie Collins just the once; I have read Barbara Bradford Taylor just the once; Martina Cole? A very poor imitation of the pre-mentioned who in themselves are the top writers of their genre, and they are lightweight and bad enough as it is. The author, if I may call her that, begins with the difficult birth of a baby born into squalor and poverty in South London in the 1950s. How often have we read this introduction in the first chapter of a book? The baby girl is the first female to be born into a home with an alcoholic father, a strong mother and several older brothers. Excuse me while I yawn. The family live on their wits around the bomb sites of post war South London by stealing and violence and it is obvious from the start ...

Cutex Nail Polish Remover 06/12/2003

Stripped Pine

Cutex Nail Polish Remover Goodness knows I've bought enough Cutex Nail Polish Remover over the years. So I grabbed the familiar shaped Cutex bottle from the supermarket shelf, vaguely noticing that bottle was opaque instead of clear. The reason for this didn't become apparent until I returned home and had a closer look. Sure enough, I had indeed bought a Cutex Nail Polish Remover but it was 'new' in the form of a gel. I'm already wary. Soaking a cotton wool pad in an acetone based liquid formula and removing old nail polish is second nature to me- what was I supposed to do with a nail polish remover gel? Old habits die hard so I poured some gel onto a cotton wool pad and begun to remove the nail polish from my fingernails in the usual way. Problem was that nothing shifted. In fact my nails were sticky with wisps of the disintegrating cotton wool pad clinging to them but the nail polish stayed put. I suppose with any new product it pays to read the directions but understandably this didn't seem necessary to me as this is a twice weekly beauty routine and I thought I was well versed in removing my nail polish. It would appear not! The 'Usage Instruction' told me to ' apply a generous amount of the gel remover directly onto your nail and wait for five seconds. Use a tissue or a cotton wool pad and simply wipe off' Have you ever attempted to pour a generous amount of gel onto a single fingernail from a screw top bottle? Blob too little and it doesn't cover the painted nail-blob too much and I was ...

You Inspire Me - Curtis Stigers 05/12/2003

Saxed Up

You Inspire Me - Curtis Stigers My love affair began in late 1991 when the good looking, smooth voiced singer/songwriter and American tenor-saxophone player Curtis Stigers released his first album 'Curtis Stigers'. I was smitten. Jealous mutterings from my bloke suggesting he was a one-hit wonder were studiously ignored by me. Secretly I longed for Curtis Stigers to repeat the success of his first album, which fell into the Pop category, but I waited in vain. I made excuses for the lack of a second album in that he had written all the songs himself and they were obviously based on his own life experiences and were deep and meaningful. And anyway-isn't there something about a smoky and raspy saxophone player blowing down his horn? During the last twelve years several albums have followed and I have bought them all but none of them carried the magic of that first album. A music review on Curtis Stigers' new album 'You Inspire Me' gave the singer/jazzman five stars. Even more exciting were the reviews for his UK tour earlier in the year promoting the album. The critics were ecstatic over his life performances where he snarled, crooned and scat in ways comparable to Tony Bennet as well as playing the saxophone. The controversial point for many music lovers is that this whole album consists of cover versions. OK! I can hear many of you. Cover versions are never a patch on the original-but please wait. Curtis Stigers has re-emerged as a jazz singer. Consider a blend of Chet Baker, the trumpet playing ...

BT Voyager 1020 28/11/2003

A Voyage into the Unknown

BT Voyager 1020 If you want to read an expert critique and very technical description of the BT Voyager 2000, complete with images and diagrams, then I suggest you visit first and then return here to read a complete layperson's experience of installing, configuring and running this wireless ADSL modem, the aim being to home network two computers in order to share broadband access, printers, files and folders. Considering the problems I encountered installing and setting up BT Broadband on my new computer using Windows XP I should in hindsight have left well alone, but my partner was so impressed with the speedy broadband connection and my new computer that he immediately bought himself a new computer as he wanted to join in the fun. We balanced the cost of a second phone line and the monthly fee for an ISP for his sole use against the monthly fee of £29.00 for a shared broadband connection using the one phone line and sharing was the obvious economic answer. My first move was to ask a local computer expert if he could home network the two computers to include the broadband connection. His first comment was how much he loathed the Windows XP operating system and the second was that he had never networked a broadband connection before but that he'd ask around. This hardly filled me with confidence-did I really want to let him near two brand new computers? I decided to go it alone. The BT brochure that came with my original ...
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