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44 16/11/2012

Expanding in the UK Swagbucks is a reward site which has been around in the UK for a while, and I see there are already a number of reviews on this site, but I thought I would add my two pence worth as some changes have recently taken place, and more are on the way. Just so you have an idea of my experience on the site, I joined on 30/08/11 and since being a member, I have earned over 52000 Swagbucks (the site's currency) which at today's prices could get me about £300 in Amazon vouchers. Amazon vouchers, and what else...? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ So what can you get on Swagbucks? I usually go for the Amazon vouchers, are they are among the best value, but knowing what I now know about Amazon and their massive tax avoidance, I might have to go for something else. It used to be cheaper to buy 5 x £5 Amazon vouchers that 1 x £25, but thankfully they have responded to user's feedback and corrected that. When I first joined, the only alternative was to choose Paypal vouchers, which work out a bit more expensive, but as SB develop their UK operation, new vouchers are added all the time. iTunes, HMV, New Look, Marks & Spencer, Lovefilm and Now PizzaExpress have joined the ranks. Typically, a £5 card costs 849 bucks. What else can I do with my bucks? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Members are also able to donate bucks to charity, and this part of the site now also has a UK alternative, the British Red Cross. You can donate as little as 5 bucks. Although there are a number of items for sale, ...

La Pedrera, Barcelona 05/12/2006

A good overview of Gaudí's work

La Pedrera, Barcelona Having visited the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, we wanted to visit one of Gaudí's houses too, the only problem was which one to choose. We eventually went for La Perdrera (aka Casa Milà), as we had passed this intriguing building several times and really wanted to see the unusual roof which we thought would offer great views of the city. The facade of the building is said to have no straight lines in it whatsoever, and its undulating, organic shape, is further enhanced by the wrought iron plant-like forms which adorn the balconies. The building owes its nickname la Perdrera to the quarry-like aspect of its frontage. On entering, the courtyard is also impressive, its shape drawing the eye up towards the little bit of sky at the top. The visit is in several parts, and equipped with our audio commentary, we first visited the 2 carefully restored apartments which took us back in time to when the building was new. The first is a bit like a museum, showing all the technological novelties of the time, telephone, cinema and so on. The second one was a reconstruction of an apartment in the modernista style, mixing designer and everyday objects. Remember to look at the interior patio from the apartment windows. Having seen the apartments, we were keen to get on the roof, not realising that there was a major part of the visit to experience before that, the 'Espai Gaudí'. The roof space, which was once used to dry laundry, is now an exhibition of Gaudí's life and work. I was ...

The Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh 27/10/2006

No Oscar for Holyrood

The Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh When the Scottish Parliament was reinstated in 1999, after a 292 years 'holiday', it needed a home. For four years, it met in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland whilst the new building was being constructed. From the very start, this project was plagued by controversy and difficulties. The chosen site, at the bottom of the Royal Mile, was not everyone's favourite, and some even questioned if there should be a new building. When the Catalan architect Enric Miralles was chosen for the project, the choice of an architect out with Scotland was another contentious point. The original estimate for the cost of the building was £50 million, but it ended up costing around £470 million. To add to the already troubled start, Enric Miralles sadly died of a brain tumour in 2000, before the building was completed. Officially opened by the Queen in October 2004, Holyrood was visited by 250,000 people in its first 6 months, which to some was a vindication. However, as Margo MacDonald (independent MSP) pointed out, did it mean they all liked it? My husband and I were among these early visitors and our feelings were very mixed. We had been in Edinburgh when the work was being done, and had not been overly impressed with what little we saw behind the security barriers. But then again, a building site is never pretty so we put those very early impressions out of our minds. We really wanted to like the new building, not only because it had cost each of us about £85 (as it did ...

Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel, Mont-St-Michel, Basse-Normandie, Normandy 25/10/2006

The archangel in the sea

Abbaye du Mont Saint Michel, Mont-St-Michel, Basse-Normandie, Normandy The first time we saw the Mont Saint Michel was from about 40kms away, from a village called Mortain, and even from this distance, there was something magical about the place, the characteristic shape appeared to be floating above a shimmering sea. You can understand the fascination it held for medieval pilgrims, and tourists ever since. This site is the most popular tourist attraction in France with 3 million visitors a year. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. ~History of the Mont~ *************** ******** Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built the first church on the site after being asked to do so in a dream by the archangel Michael (that kind of things happened a lot in those days!). That was in 709AD. Before that, this was just a lump of rock in the middle of the sea, barely an island. In 966, the Duke of Normandy requested that a Benedictine community live on the rock, and they started building, expanding, beautifying the abbey, which was already nicknamed 'the marvel' by the 13th century. During the hundred years war, the Mont was besieged many times, but proved to be impregnable. In the 16th century, monastic life was no longer a popular option, and the abbey gradually fell into disrepair. This was compounded by protestant attacks later, and only about 12 monks remained by the end of the 18th century. During the revolution, the abbey was used as a prison. The Mont Saint Michel has been the property of the French 'Monuments Historiques' who have cared for and ...

Snakes On A Plane DVD 10/10/2006

It passed the "numb bum" test!

Snakes On A Plane DVD Our little town's cinema usually gets film ages after everyone else, even after they appear on DVD. "Snakes on a Plane" was no exception. At 90 years old, this cinema is the oldest working cinema in Scotland, and it is a lovely quaint building. I swear the seats must be 90 as well though, as they are not all that comfortable. And that is the way I judge how entertaining a movie is. Let me explain: because of the nature of the seats, after about an hour in the cinema, numbness inevitably sets in. Depending how involved I am in the action of the film, it takes more or less time to notice. "The English Patient" for instance, despite being very worthy, scored high on the numbness front, and not only because of its length… Last night though, watching "Snakes on a Plane", it was only when getting up to leave the cinema that the lack of sensation in my bottom entered my consciousness. So despite all the negative press, the film must have been at the very least entertaining. Let's get one thing clear from the start: this is no masterpiece. And I certainly wasn't expecting it to be. But I was very much looking forward to seeing it, as I had heard so much about it. Unlike other movies that have been over-hyped (like "Blair Witch Project" which turned out to be not very good at all), this one didn't disappoint one bit. So let's look at it in more detail, but not too closely as there isn't actually an awful lot to examine there… ~The hype~ ************* Even before the movie ...

Bar Brel - Glasgow, Glasgow 18/09/2006

A great dining experience in Glasgow's West End.

Bar Brel - Glasgow, Glasgow The small town where we live has very little in the way of decent eateries, so when we get the chance, my husband and I like to spend a weekend in Glasgow, look round the shops (a bit of a novelty for us) and have a nice meal out. One place we go back to again and again is Bar Brel, in Ashton Lane. ~Location~ ************* The west end of Glasgow has an atmosphere all its own. It is a favourite haunt of the city's students and BBC types (BBC Scotland HQ is just up the road), yet it's not a student-only area. It has a very cosmopolitan feel, and a great buzz, especially for us country folks. Ashton Lane is a narrow street off Byres Road, a street known to any Glaswegian worth his salt. It is a busy, bustling thoroughfare, with lots of great little shops and pubs. If you don't know Aston Lane though, you might walk right past it and not notice. When you turn into the lane, the first thing you notice is the cobbled stone paving. Then you start to see all the quaint bars and restaurant and the old- fashioned Grosvenor cinema. And here is Bar Brel. ~Appearance~ *************** * This lovely brick building used to be a stable and coach house. The conversion is very sensitive and doesn't make the place look too new. Downstairs is the bar and restaurant, all pretty basic with white tiles of the kind you used to see in the metro in Paris (or unkind people might say in the style of public conveniences). The restaurant part is a little crowded with small tables covered ... 11/09/2006

Click all the way to the bank (well, the e-bank) A few months down the line, I felt an update of this review was necessary. Look at the paragraph on converting points to find out how I obtained an iPod nano for £9.44. ~So, what is it~ *************** *** Rewards Central was launched in January 2006 by Permission Corp. and is basically a website that rewards its members for shopping online, reading emails, replying to surveys, etc. There seems to be more and more of these on the scene, as traditional ways of marketing don't seem to work anymore (and can even turn people off), and as SPAM is being more and more regulated. So they get paid by advertisers or researchers who want to get in touch with you, the potential customer. They then pass on some of that money to you. ~How does it work?~ *************** ********* This site operates on a point system, where 100 points equals £1.00. There are several ways of earning points, and you can pick and choose which ones you subscribe to. ~Earning Points~ *************** ***** <%> You can earn points by shopping with partners of Rewards Central and getting cash-back, a bit like the Tesco loyalty card principle. Partners are displayed under various headings such as 'over 18', 'food and wine', 'travel', to name a few. You can also view them in alphabetical order or use the search facility. With this you can search either for a shop or a product. I counted 41 partners, which may not seem very many, but remember this is still a fairly new site, and I would expect ...

Lush Marilyn Hair Moisturiser 04/09/2006

Do blondes really have more fun?

Lush Marilyn Hair Moisturiser When I was a child, I had very blond hair, and my mum was determined it was going to stay that way, which is why our garden always had a little patch of camomile and an infusion of the flowers was used for rinsing my hair. It worked to an extent and I remained fairly blond. That is until I moved to Britain and the sun to rain exposure ratio was reversed... Now being blonde is not something I obsess over and I certainly wouldn't mind nice brown or black hair, but my hair was starting to turn a sort of off-blonde non-descript colour. I hated it and in desperation I turned to the bottle... The chemical bottle my hairdresser uses for highlights that is. At first I wasn't keen, but my hairdresser wore me down and eventually I went with it, but not before the spatula method for highlighting hair was invented. For those of you not familiar with the subtleties of hair colouring, it used to be done using what is called the hook and cap method. And yes, that is as awful as it sounds. They used to put a kind of rubber cap over your head that is pierced with a multitude of small holes, and using a little metal hook, they would tease out small strands of hair prior to applying the colouring lotion. Painful, yes, and it made you look like some kind of weird alien. Without going into detail, the other method is much gentler, although I know the old caps are still in use in some salons. I loved my new colour, as it was subtle and natural looking, but eventually, my hair became lighter ...

Suenos Spanish Course - BBC 31/08/2006

Sueños is Spanish for dreams

Suenos Spanish Course - BBC This review is based on my own experience of learning Spanish with Sueños 1. Although I was an absolute beginner when I started this course, I am a language teacher (I teach French)which you need to bear in mind when reading this review. I have wanted to learn Spanish for a very long time, but due to studying other courses, I didn't have time. Why did I choose to study this way rather than attend a class? Well, I have had a lot of practice at studying on my own and I am usually fairly disciplined. I like to be able to progress at my own pace, which could mean going quickly through some chapters, or stopping altogether for a while. And classes are not readily available where I live. ~The pack itself~ *************** **** The Sueños pack comprises a book and 4 audio Cd's totalling over 5 hours of audio. I also purchased an exercise book separately (£5.99 from the BBC shop) and taped the Sueños programmes off the BBC2 channel (the BBC website contains information of when these are played, which is quite regularly.) Add to this the Sueños websites which has video and audio clips, vocabulary, exercises and transcripts of the TV series and you get a very varied, multimedia course. ( The only thing missing is the opportunity to speak the language, other than talk to yourself or the cat (See picture :-) ). But I will come back to this aspect when I describe the course itself. The pack then... The book and Cd's are held in ...

Carnac, Brittany 12/08/2006

Stoned in Brittany

Carnac, Brittany Carnac, in Brittany, is one of the high places of megalithic culture. The great standing stone alignments are to Brittany what Stonehenge is to prehistoric England. I first visited this as a very young child and there is somewhere a picture of me sitting on a megalith aged about four. Nowadays though, a visit to Carnac is rather different, as the menhirs (a Breton word for standing stone) cannot be approached most of the time, due to the huge numbers of visitors to this site who had started to endanger the soil around the monuments. The Morbihan area is particularly rich in megalithic structures, and around Carnac itself, there are many outstanding monuments to visit such as the amazing sculpted cairn at Gavrinis or the megalithic ensemble at Locmariaquer which comprises two tumuli (covered tombs) and a massive standing stone which before it was broken measured 20 metres (64 ft) and weighed almost 350t. You could if you so wished organise to have a megalithic day and take in a few of these amazing sights. On to Carnac itself then. On the day of our visit, we decided to visit the museum of prehistory first. This is situated in the village. Interestingly, it was founded by a Scotsman, James Miln, back in 1881. The visit follows a chronological order from the Lower Paleolithic (600 000 BC) to the early Middle Ages and helps put some sort of context to a visit to the alignments. It offers explanations as to how menhirs might have been erected and how dolmens (two or more ...

Island of Brehat 10/08/2006

Island adventure

Island of Brehat The island of Bréhat, actually two islands joined by a tiny bridge built in the 18th Century by Vauban (the man responsible for much of the fortifications built around France at the time), is situated North-Northeast of Paimpol, in the Côtes d'Armor, Brittany. We decided to visit one day, not knowing very much about it other than it was meant to be very pretty and cars aren't allowed there. If you have read my review on the island of Gigha (Scotland), you will know that this is the kind of place I love the most. ~How to get there~ *************** ***** If you are driving, to go to Bréhat, you first need to get to Paimpol and from there, the island is well signposted. Five kilometres after Paimpol, you will come to the 'Pointe de l'Arcouest', the point where you can get a boat to the island. The 'Vedettes de Bréhat', a boat company, has got the monopoly for transporting people to and from the island. You can leave your car at the car park, either near the wharf or a bit further up the hill. The car park cost €5, and they undertake to check the car park regularly for thieves. If you don't have a car, you can go to Paimpol by train and from the station get a bus to the point. Take time when you are there to admire the beautiful viewpoint. Although there is only one company to travel with, you have two options to get to Bréhat from the Pointe de l'Arcouest. You can either go directly, a short 10 minutes crossing which will cost you €8 (£5.40), or you could elect, as we ...

Asterix at the Olympic Games - Rene Goscinny 05/08/2006

These Romans are crazy!

Asterix at the Olympic Games - Rene Goscinny In France, comics are thought of as an art form in their own right (often called 'the ninth art'). They are called Bande Dessinées (which translates as 'drawn strips'), or BD, a name which doesn't prescribe the content as much as the word comics, which could be looked upon as somewhat derogatory. There are BDs on a wide variety of subjects, and they are not just for kids or nerds to collect. In fact, reading BDs is something most French people do or have done at some point, and Asterix is probably to be found on most families' bookshelves. I think I have read most of them in French in the past, and am currently enjoying reading my son's books in English. ~A few facts and figures~ *************** ************* If you have never heard of Astérix, then you must be the only one! With 33 books translated into more than 100 languages, Astérix has also been the hero of a few animated movies, of a couple of live action movies (the least said about those the better), of video games and even has his own theme park. More than 5 million copies of the latest book were sold within 3 months of its publication, 1.2 million in 6 days in France alone! It is expected than 300 million copies of the next instalment will be printed and distributed worldwide. ~A little 'history'~ *************** ** Let me start at the beginning, in 50 BC. "Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not ...

Getting around in Barcelona 30/07/2006

Barcelona es teva.

Getting around in Barcelona What I really wanted to write about was the 'Barcelona Card' (see below), and I proposed this product months ago, but it wasn't added by Ciao, so I will try to widen the scope of this review to include all transports (well, all the ones I can think of…). This review will not include information on driving in Barcelona, as we had no first-hand experience of it. First, let me give you some general information about Barcelona by way of an introduction. Situated in the northeast of Spain on the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona is the second city in Spain, but this fact matters little to the Catalans for whom it is the capital of Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan). One and a half million people live there. The city's development is arrested on two sides by the hills of Collserola and by Montjuïc Mountain, and it has had to expand into the Mediterranean itself, as witnessed by the Museu Marítim, which used to be a shipyard and is now landlocked. Barcelona is the cruising capital of Europe with more than a million visitors docking in its harbour every year. For me, there are two Barcelonas; one a modern city with wide avenues and bustling traffic, the other, the old Barcelona is all narrow streets and ancient buildings, with Roman walls still visible among more recent buildings. The transport system has to cater for both. ~The airport~ *************** * Barcelona's major airport is situated 8 miles southwest of the city and if you come from the UK, you will arrive at either ...

Le Bonheur (DVD) 27/07/2006

Enjoy bunny, enjoy!

Le Bonheur (DVD) Francis is having a bad day. In fact, things have been bad for a while now, and his stress is reaching dangerous levels. Imagine: the toilet accessories' factory he owns is besieged with troubles, among which a workers' strike and a tax audit and his wife and daughter are stuck-up madams, whose main activity at the moment is to spend huge amounts of money on said daughter's wedding to an insipid nerd. It's no wonder then, that when his best friend takes him out for a meal to cheer him up, Francis collapses face down on his plate. He eventually recovers, but the experience makes him realise he hates everything about his life. However, there seems to be little he can do about it. One night, the family is assembled around the television, and the usual uneasy atmosphere reigns. The programme is one of these syrupy family reunion programmes and suddenly every one's attention is on the screen: two young women and their mother are looking for the latter's husband, gone missing 26 years ago. The extraordinary thing though, is that the picture they show of the man looks very much like Francis. So much so, that everyone believes it's him. He denies this at first, but eventually admits it, and swaps his hectic life and demanding family for new ones in the south of France, changing his name to Michel. But is Francis really Michel? Can things really be that simple and can he be happy ever after? ~The director~ *************** ** In common with other films by Etienne ... 22/07/2006

The cheque's in the post! With unemployment now looming (I am on holiday at the moment, but when the schools reopen in August, I will have to face the fact that I don't have a job...), these reward sites are starting to look more and more attractive. I know you cannot make a living out of them, but at least you feel like you are doing something. ~How does it work?~ *************** ********* Mutual Points reward you for a number of things by awarding points to your account. 150 points are worth £1, in other word, each point is worth 0.66666 (I could go on but I won't) of a pence. Why not make it 1p for each point? Well, call me a cynic if you will, but I think perhaps that is so you are never quite sure how much actual money each transaction is worth, and in effect, you probably feel like they are worth more that they actually are. You need to have accumulated 3 000 points to claim a reward worth £20. You can also claim a bigger reward, in increments of £5 (750 points). One of the things I like about this site, is that you have a number of ways to accumulate points, and shopping through the site is only one of them. I will try to detail them below, with their value in points and in pounds. ☺Signup bonus. 50 points to get you on your way, that is to say 33.333p (etc.). Not a fortune, but hey, you haven't really done anything yet. Along with that, I got 100 points (66 pence) for filing in a member survey; I would imagine every new member gets that opportunity. ☺One-off ...
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