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since 22/01/2008


Hotel del Corso, Selvino 25/07/2008

Local colour at a great price

Hotel del Corso, Selvino Hotel del Corso is a rather ordinary three star hotel in Selvino which is twenty five kilometers from Bergamo airport. This doesn't sound very far, but it is up a mountain so you get a nice drive up a scenic mountain path, but it is hardly speedy driving! We stayed there after arriving at Bergamo airport on a fly-drive holiday, and not being able easily to find an inexpensive hotel near the airport which would put two adults and two children aged three and one all in one room. I never thought I'd miss Travelodge! Our holiday could cope with an hour's drive up to the town of Selvino, which I think is a ski resort, but we stayed therefore very cheaply out of season in July. We paid £56 for a fairly small but perfectly acceptable room with quite a large en-suite bathroom, furnished with a double bed, two bunk beds, and a cot. It had a small balcony and was a bit dreary in terms of decor but perfectly acceptable for one night. This is really so cheap compared to the airport hotels in Bergamo, that I was delighted I booked it, and we had a lovely day in the town. The hotel rooms are above a bar, which is on one side of Selvino which is quite a big town. So eating out was easy, and I spent a happy afternoon in the large town playpark with my children, and walking around the town which has a plethora of small shops, coffee bars and ice cream parlours as well as restaurants. The worst thing about the hotel was that the bathroom smelt - even though it was all very clean ...

Eurocamp family holidays 18/07/2008


Eurocamp family holidays I've been Eurocamping for a long time, using both tents and mobile homes, in France and Italy, and have found that, providing you shop carefully, you can get a great holiday at a good price. WHAT IS IT? Eurocamp basically hire out tents and mobiles homes all set up ready for use for you on a variety of camp sites across France, Spain, Germany, Italy and possible a few other places. They provide not just the tent or mobile but also all the basic equipment you need - a fridge (fridge/freezer in a mobile home), cooking facilities, barbeque where sites permit, plates and cutlery, pots and pans, blankets and you can hire sheets and towels, sun loungers, beds and table and chairs, and in the mobile homes also a mircowave. Some mobiles have air conditioning and most hve some form of heating. You get on site couriers who speak excellent English and have local knowledge and a cheap rate on ferry crossings if you decide to drive across the channel. Tents sleep six and mobiles sleep between 5 and 8, depending on the one you pick, and costs vary considerably depending on time of travel, type of accommodation and disocunts available. OUR 2008 TRIP We went to Pesciera del Garda on the southern part of Lake Garda for ten days in early July. We booked a mobile home which was designed to sleep 7 - one double bedroom, one triple room (using bunk beds so the room was really suitable for children) and two on a sofa bed in the living room - though there would have been ...

Ambasciatori Hotel, Mestre 16/07/2008

When is suite not a suite?

Ambasciatori Hotel, Mestre I've just come back from a three night stay in this hotel, which is situatued in Mestre - a sort of suburb near Venice. Having never been to Venice, I really wanted to visit, but travelling with four meant hotel rooms are not cheap and hotel rooms in Venice are especially not cheap. So this hotel provided an excellent solution - a few kilometres outside Venice itself makes all the difference to affordability, and clearly Mestre is working on this principle as there are a lot of hotels there. ROOM This one, the Ambasciatori, is four star, and we stayed in what they call a suite. First point - it's not! It is a nice large executive double with a queen sized bed and a walk in wardrobe but it does not have a separate sitting room, so in my book it is not a suite. It has a sitting area in the room separated from the bed by a lattice screen, but that doesn't count as a separate room does it? What it did have, rather extra-ordinarily, was a separate shower room with toilet and sink as well as a full sized bath room with two sinks, shower over the bath, loo and bidet. Nice big sort of twelve/fourteen feet square bathroom, all white suite, marble counter, tiled floor etc. Great. Hubby and I could both shower at the same time. So a suite of bathrooms then..... This nice non-suite cost us 190 euros a night but they did three nights for the price of two, so it worked out well. They had a cot (which actually we ended up putting in the walk in wardrobe as it was large enough and ...

Scott's Porage Oats 06/05/2008

Weird spelling but a great product

Scott's Porage Oats Scott's Porage Oats were a familiar feature of my childhood, and have always stuck in my memory, partly because of the very distinctive scotsman in his kilt on the packet, and partly because I tried to spell porridge in a spelling test at the age of nine the way they do on the packet (porage) and my teacher marked it wrong. That really confused me! But though I travelled through my teens and twenties eating chocolate croissants and black coffee for breakfast, the arrival of my own children triggered the porridge bug in me once more. Both my little children love porridge, and now I make enough for all three of us and we all start the day with a bowl of Scott's oats, made with full cream milk for them, and half semi-skimmed, half water for me! I personally love the thick-milled variety - they give the porridge a great texture - and I have never come across another brand that does thick milled oats, so I'm a Scott's fan! They do 'ordinary' porridge oats too, which are smaller and create a porridge with a more even texture. One of the great innovations in porridge preparation in modern times is the microwave - yes you can make your porridge oats in a saucepan for 5-10 minutes, then soak the pan for the next three hours! - but you can also put the required amount in a pyrex jug or bowl with milk or water, pop it in the micro for 5 minutes while you jump in the shower and hey presto! - perfectly cooked oats, ready to eat, and no nasty pan to wash! Actually I prefer them ...

Packard Bell Easy Note SW51-B-012 02/05/2008

"Packaged Hell" seems less awful than before

Packard Bell Easy Note SW51-B-012 Please note - this is actually a review of a slightly different laptop from the one specified - I bought the SJ51 not the SW51. Packard Bell no longer sell the SW51. The basic machines are identical, but the SW had AMD Turion, 1GB RAM and 1.6GHz clock speed, and the SJ has the Athlon x 2, 2GB RM and 1.9Ghz, . Everything else is the same; if Ciao ever set up the right category out I'll move this review! MY PURCHASE I bought this Easy Note laptop from PC World a few weeks ago and paid £419. It is therefore pretty much an entry level machine, but I think it has some great features, which if they fit your requirements, make this a great buy. Packard Bell have been making laptops for years - they have been in business since 1991 and are a familiar name, though not one really associated with quality, so I did have some initial concerns when the salesman suggested it. The name dates back to 1926, when they made radios and televisons for America, and was bought in the 1980s and attached to this new PC company. The computers they made in the early nineties were, frankly, pants - they were rumoured to use second hand parts and their computers often didn't work! Not good. The salesman assured me that they have improved since then though, and I have since discovered they have been bought out recently by Acer, which probably bodes well. After considering my options, though this Packard Bell was not the laptop I was intending to buy, once the salesman suggested it, I ...

Corby 7700 Trouser Press 29/04/2008

Don't laugh - the Corby is quite useful actually

Corby 7700 Trouser Press No-one who has ever stayed in a British hotel can surely be unaware of the Corby trouser press. I do wonder if there are any other manufacturers apart from Corby who make trouser presses. The three words are synonymous. The Company John Corby Limited is the company that makes the Corby trouser press. It was established in 1930 by John Corby in Windsor, England and originally made valet stands. A valet stand is wooden frame for putting a jacket on and hanging trousers overnight, so you could put them back on again in the morning. That'll be an over-engineered bedroom chair then, basically! But John Corby took them to a new level by adding a pressing area and lo! The first Corby trouser press was invented. They stuck a plug on them during the 1960s, so they were electrically heated. In 1977 John Corby Limited became part of what is now Jourdan plc. The company relocated to Andover, Hampshire in the eighties and the sales and marketing aspects of the business still operate from there, though actual production is now done in Peterlee, Co Durham. The company of course still specialises in the manufacture of Corby trouser presses and they have now added ironing centres to their portfolio - that's a corby trouser press with an iron and board attached - a brilliant addition to a large hotel room. They also have a fairly wide range of guest amenity products for hotels - things like bathrobes, shower curtains, hospitality trays, hairdryers etc - many of the extras you expect ...

Denon DVD-1940 28/04/2008

Award winning DVD player

Denon DVD-1940 I've just bought one of these. Oooh it's good. Really good. Here's why. It's a dead cool DVD player which is ideal if you have an HD ready telly and want to really enjoy your DVDs to the full. It has Dolby sound so is great if you hook it up to separate speakers, but pretty good if you don't, too. It comes in silver (well aluminium) or black, and compared to some DVD players it is quite chunky - about the thickness of a video recorder. I don't know why. I forgive it this though, as the picture quality is awesome. Really sharp. It has 1080 upscaling, which means it is fully HD compatible, and a detachable mains lead, which I couldn't see the point of until More Technically Minded Hubby (MTMH) explained that this is a Good Thing as it allows you to upgrade the cable and get even better quality. Until buying this, I thought it was only worth paying thirty quid for a DVD player, but now I understand that you get what you pay for and this is worth paying for. MTMH paid £180 for ours, which is a lot more than thirty quid but oooh I am happy. It is easy to use, and gives you ultra sharp picture quality and great sound. It won What Hifi's 2007 best DVD player under £300 award, which is what made him consider it. They clearly know a thing or two at What Hifi. Right, now take a deep breath: It has: * HDMI Interface with Multi Channel Audio(480p/720p/1080i/1080p Scaling). Um, I think this means the picture quality is fab. It might be what makes the sound ...

Palace Hotel, Manchester 28/04/2008

"All I need is the air that I breathe...."

Palace Hotel, Manchester I have just spent a night at the Palace Hotel in Manchester, on business. It is a rather grand, distinctively impressive Victorian building right in the heart of the city, that was originally built as insurance offices, apparently, and still does slightly have the feeling as you arrive in the door of being a rather commercial venue. I actually walked past the entrance the first time, assuming that what I could see was a shopping mall or something - the entrance is that vast. It is right next to the Palace Theatre on Oxford Road and is within an easy 10 minute walk of the Arndale centre and other shops. China town is also only a few minutes' walk away and there are a number of restaurants, cafes and other stuff nearby, including a large Sainsbury's. It is opposite Oxford Road train station and within walking distance of Piccadilly station. There are a couple of car parks nearby - the nearest is the NCP Palace car park but at £15.50 a day it's not cheap - a better deal for Palace residents can be had at the one a 5 minute walk away which only costs £7.50 a day if they validate your ticket at reception. It is an imposing building amd hard to miss (clever of me to walk past, actually!) and the entrance hall is cavernous and grand. The staff on reception are friendly and check-in was swift - this is a four star hotel and it shows. THey have a separate concierge for leaving luggage etc. Through to the bar/restaurant and grand becomes impressive rather than soul-less. Nice ...

Sudocrem netdoctor Antiseptic Healing Cream 13/04/2008

Better than a sudoku at solving nappy rash

Sudocrem netdoctor Antiseptic Healing Cream If you are a mother with a child under five living in Britain this product will surely need no introduction. Somewhere in the bit of motherhood-training where you instictively learn certain key facts and can't remember not knowing them but don't ever remember anyone telling them to you, is the piece of mother wisdom that says sudocrem is a nappy change essential item. Sudocrem is a thick white barrier cream which some people use at every nappy change, but we only use if they is trouble down below. I bought a large-ish 250g tub when my daughter was born (she is now two and a half) and when we went on holiday the August before last we had forgotten to pack it, so bought a smaller 125g tub, as we needed it that week. The larger tub cost, ooh, about £4. My son is now 14 months and he inherited these two tubs, I threw the smaller one away the day before yesterday and have just splashed out a princely £2.45 on another 125g tub, which I fondly believe will see me through to potty training. It doesn't break the bank then, and a little goes a long way. If you used it at every nappy change obviously you'd use a bit more, but as a treatment rather than prevention it is highly effectively, especially if combined with the usual "nappy off time", frequent changing etc, if baby has a sore little botty. You can even use it on broken skin, which is very useful. It is mildly antiseptic as well as being a thick barrier cream so treats the probelm whilst preventing it from getting any ...

Early Learning Centre Highchair Steering Wheel 12/04/2008

Baby Driver hits the road (and the floor!)

Early Learning Centre Highchair Steering Wheel This is a great little toy, which at £10 from the Early Learning Centre is not expensive if you are looking for a present for a little boy or girl. It is designed with a rubber suction cap on the bottom of it, so you can stick it down to a hard, solid surface. The idea is that you stick to the tray of your baby's highchair, to keep baby amused while you're preparing dinner, finishing your own meal or whatever, but it has good play value on the floor or in the playpen too, at least in our house! It is suitable for babies from six months - in other words they need to be able to sit up in their highchair unaided really and be ble to reach out to a toy, in order to get any play value from it, though, you can sit with a younger child on your knee and enjoy making the beeping noise and going "broom broom" if you want to - there is nothing unsafe about it for a younger child as far as I can see. My son was given one for Christmas last year when he was 11 months old, and is still enjoying it, so it has good durability. His two year old sister likes it too! It is made of plastic and pretty robust - it has hit the stone floor in our kitchen countless times with no ill effects. THe mirror you can see on the left in the picture comes off very easily, and reattcehs easily too - though I think ours might be at the bottom of a toy box somewhere - I'm not sure why it is so detachable - perhaps it's a safety feature, but it does mean they tend to get separated. The play value is ...

Apple MacBook Air 08/04/2008

As light as air, as expensive as pure oxygen

Apple MacBook Air So you are thinking about a MacBook Air? At over $1700/£1200 even for the entry level it's not an impulse buy, so it is good to think through the pros and cons of this machine to decide if it is really right for you. PROS: 1. THE LOOK: It's cool. Really, seriously cool. It's incredibly thin and light, so thin you could put it in an envelope and post it. There is no better machine to carry around if you want to impress your colleagues. At its thinnest it is only 0.16" thick. 2. THE HARDWARE: It comes with Core2Duo (a choice of 1.6 or 1.8Ghz) and 2GB RAM which is what most of us need, plus a good standard of video card and a 64GB solid state drive. 3. THE FEATURES: The MacBook Air comes with the built in wireless card you would expect, a built-in web cam and Bluetooth. A backlit keyboard and a brilliant big touch pad mean you can use this anywhere, and the touch pad has all the interactivity of the iPod Touch. 4. THE SCREEN: It has a 13.3 inch HD screen with 1920x1080 resolution. This is backlit, for improved visibility. 5. THE WEIGHT: It only weighs three pounds. 6. THE BATTERY: It has a battery life of up to five hours, even with Wi-Fi on, which is excellent in my view for anything this thin, better than other Apples, and streets ahead of almost all its competitors. 7. ENVIRONMENTAL CREDENTIALS Apple claim the Mac Air is made with a large number of recyclable parts. CONS: 1. RELIABILITY: It is a new product and there are always issues with ...

Kenwood CH 180/A 07/04/2008

This mini chopper is a little gem

Kenwood CH 180/A This is a mini chopper which is really useful if you just want to make a small quantity of something like pesto or houmous, or just chop an onion. It is inexpensive (I paid £19.99 for mine) and doesn't take up too much space in the kitchen. Its maximum capacity is 350ml or 150g. It has two speeds, though I must admit I don't use the lower speed much. It's not that powerful - it has a 300w motor, but it chops things like carrots really evenly, without a slush at the bottom. It has a nice design with a cute curvy bit where the motor is and the bowl bit is one of those rounded ones. It is a bit of a faff getting the bowl back in after you've taken it out, which is a bit annoying. The blade is stainless steel and you can put the bowl in the dishwasher. I've got a one year old and when he was weaning it was brilliantly useful for whizzing stuff up; it also chops herbs in seconds and, though I don't think you could use it instead of a proper processor if you do a lot of grown up cooking, it is a really useful wee extra to do the odd thing, which saves washing up the big processor. If you were a single person this might just be all you need, perhaps with a stick blender for soups. They are out of stock everywhere at the moment for some reason, but are obviously going to be available again by the end of the month, so if you want one you'll just have to be a little bit patient. I bought mine from ebay, but even they don't have any just now. It's a good one though, ...

Sanyo PDG-DSU20B 04/04/2008

You won't need the bloke in IT for this one

Sanyo PDG-DSU20B This is a projector designed to work with a lap top and screen so you can do presentations or whatever where you want your computer screen projected. I also use it connected to a TV and VCR so you can project the image onto a larger screen, for showing to a whole room full of people. It costs £233 at the moment from the BT shop - that's the cheapest price I can find at the moment - I use mine at work, so I don't know what it actually cost. It is a portable projector, so you and your latop can go anywhere, and bore peole to death by powerpoint slide, on a global scale. It weighs a little over 6lbs, which is not bad, but if you can get the bloke in IT to set it up for you and carry it over, then I'd do that if I were you. It is a fabulous example of the genre. Firstly it's intelligent. It recognises when you've plugged something into it and you don't have to press a dozen buttons just to get it to talk to your laptop. I have a system with multiple things plugged in quite often and when you switch one of them on, it knows you've done that, it knows which one and it goes straight there! Oh joy! It is arguably more interactive than the bloke in IT, becasue it never scratches its head, sucks its teeth and says, "Oh my goodness what ever did you to do to this then?" in a patronising male tone. Secondly it is very bright and you can adjust the contrast, and it has a big lens so you still get a reasonable size of picture even if the projection screen is a long way ...

Cleopatra (DVD) 03/04/2008

A Sizzling Blockbuster you just HAVE to see!

Cleopatra (DVD) This length epic is such an astonishingly great film it must come top of my list of Saturday afternoon movies. Famously the movie is the set where Elizabeth Taylor met Richard Burton, and even before it was released it was a great talking point, due to this and the size of the budget, as well as Taylor's fee. Sumptuous and engaging, it portrays the life of that great, last Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, and her relationships with both Caesar and Mark Antony as well as her attempts to keep her Kingdom. The scene where she arrives in Rome with her son Caesarion is probably my favourite film clip ever. The elephants alone are amazing never mind the acting! Everybody is in it, and it's quite simply a must see. The story of Cleopatra is a great one, and this film really delivers on a great script. The chemistry sizzles between Taylor as Cleopatra and Burton as Mark Antony and there are great supporting performances by Rex Harrison as Caesar, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowell, George Cole, Francesca Annis and Michael Hordern, to name but a few. THe most expensive film ever made, at the time, I simply adore every indulgent minute of it. This particular version is just the original film though (I have another version with an even longer director's cut, but this is quite long enough, thank you!) If you've never seen this film then I strongly recommend it. This version has a few rather dated extras but nothing worth bothering with. This DVD is worth buying though as the film is such ...

HP Basic Docking Station with Smart Adapter 01/04/2008

Houston, we have no problem!

HP Basic Docking Station with Smart Adapter This HP docking station is a really useful piece of equipment. For those of you who have not used one before, what ia docking does is connect to all the peripherals on your desk. So you plug it in using its adapter and you can connect a mouse, a keyboard and a printer to it using USBs. You can connect a monitor to, if you want to, which I have. What's the point? Well what it means on a daily basis is that you can perhaps do away with the need for a desk top as well as a laptop, or a least it will save you a bundle of time if you are used to plugging and unplugging all your peripherals every day as you pack up your laptop and take it from your desk at work to home, or something similar. How does it work? Because it sits permanently on your desk, all your peripherals remain plugged into it. When you arrive with your laptop you just put it in the slot and click. You laptop is now connected to all your peripherals. It also acts as a power source and charger so you don't even need to get your laptop's cable out. I leave my cable at home, and have my docking station on my desk at work , so when I go home at night I just press the button to disengage the laptop and pop it in my bag. That's it! Are there any disadvantages? I haven't found any really, but one or two things you have to consider include: 1. If you want to use a separate monitor you have to remember to press the function button that allows dual display, or it won't show. 2. Mine had a fault for a ...
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