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On our recent trip up North Mr Tart did all the planning of where we were going to stay. We had just stayed in Lumley Castle which had been incredible and I thought the next hotel couldn't really compare to a 14th century castle. When we turned up at Roxbro House I was pleased to be proved wrong - this place is amazing! LOCATION Roxbro House is in Warkworth, a small place in Northumberland. Warkworth is most famous for its castle in the centre and the B and B is directly opposite the castle. There is street parking directly outside and although there wasn't a huge amount we never had a problem finding a space. CHECKING IN To check in you need to knock on the door, it's not a large hotel with a 24 hour reception. We arrived much earlier than we expected because Durham Castle had been closed. The sign outside did say that they were in from around 4pm. We tried knocking anyway but there was no answer. This was no problem - we were quite happy going around the castle and going to tea and cake afterwards. It is absolutely fair enough that they are not always there to open the door as this is a family run place. We went back around 5pm and then checked in with no problem. The man who checked is in was very friendly and efficient and showed us everything and offered to carry our bags. THE ROOM We were staying in the Ethel Nobel Room. I was pretty much speechless when I saw this room. Firstly it was enormous. I only wish my bedroom at home was this big! The whole room was beautifully decorated but the best bit was that it looked out over the castle - I was once again a happy historian! The main bedroom had a huge bed with a large wooden canopy headboard. There were two bedside tables and one had an iPod dock and radio on it. By the window was a tea table with tea and coffee facilities, including a cafetiere, although herein lay out only gripe - this was dirty on our arrival and wasn't cleaned after our first night despite me leaving it off the tray (although we did forget to ask them). This should really have been checked. In one alcove was a lovely cabinet with a flat screen TV and DVD player on top. In the centre was a mantelpiece, with a dish containing roses chocolates (could this place get any better!). In the other alcove was a large wardrobe with plenty of hanging space. There was also a small dining table and two chairs. The room was decorated very opulently, with faded gold and red flocked wallpaper and matching curtains and a gilt mirror. The bed was incredibly comfortable. There were plenty of pillows and covers. When we went into the room we found it was too warm so we turned the radiator off for most of our stay but the room would certainly be toasty in the winter and there were also extra blankets if you needed them. The dining table was in the room because you could ask to have breakfast in your room if you wanted. We didn't opt for this although we were very tempted but decided to get up and go for the sightseeing. The B and B have also started offering dinner in your room. The selection for this wasn't massive but it looked very tasty, including things like curry, Irish stew and Caesar salad. These room picnics needed to be pre-ordered. We decided to venture out to a local pub which I highly recommend called the Hermitage for dinner. The bathroom was stunning. It had flock, gothic style wallpaper in pink with Parisian style pictures. In the centre was a roll top bath - my dream -from which I could lie and look at the castle - bliss! There was also a large rainforest style shower. The towels were large and fluffy. There was a fireplace in here as well with candles should you wish for a more romantic bathing atmosphere - just remember the matches. The B and B offers a lovely selection of Gilchrist and Soames toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, bodywash etc but they do have a notice asking you not to take there out of the hotel as it was costing them a lot of money which is fair enough in a small hotel. On the back of the bathroom door there was a robe each to use during your stay as well as a pair of slippers each. This added touch of luxury was much appreciated when relaxing in our room. BREAKFAST This was served downstairs in the dining room. The cold selection was laid out on the sideboard. There was a great selection of fresh fruit, yoghurt, nuts and cereal which we had first both mornings and were delicious. On the side there was a also a selection of juices. We had the orange juice on the first morning but on the second we decided to try one of the freshly made smoothies they offer. We went for orange and mango and it was scrummy! The selection of hot food is great and all freshly prepared. I had the 'Roxbro Rosti' both mornings and it was delicious. It was shredded potato, fried, with mushrooms, bacon and a perfectly poached egg on the top. They also had full English, kipper and eggs Benedict (which came served on croissant rather than English muffin). There was also a lovely selection of jams on the table and tea and coffee. Breakfast was served by Claire, the owner of the B and B and she was an absolute delight. She was so friendly, asking us about our day and where we'd eaten etc and also offering advice about what to see and how to get there. OTHER POINTS The hotel has some lovely communal areas. Next to the reception area there is a lounge room. In here you can relax with some music playing. In here there is an honesty bar where you can help yourself to drinks and snacks and then write down what you had and add them on to your bill the next day at breakfast. There are also free cakes on offer in this room which are another really nice touch and the millionaire's shortbread was amazing. The Whiskey room was definitely Mr Tart's favourite room. In here there were antique leather chairs, lovely books on Northumberland and a large cabinet with a huge selection of whiskies. Mr Tart sampled two and was in his element as we sat in here playing a board game and relaxing. In here there was also a DVD cabinet with probably a couple of hundred titles to select from to watch in your room and the selection was very wide ranging. There is also a hot tub in the garden of the hotel according to the website but we didn't see this and it wasn't mentioned so I can't comment on it. Other services offered by the hotel include treat packages, where you can order champagne or chocolates for your room, although they do need notice for these. You can book a romance package and there will be champagne in your room upon arrival (maybe I should hint at this for next time!). We did think about getting the movie box (popcorn, ice-cream and chocolate) while watching a DVD but we were too full so decided it would be wasted. It was £6 if you did fancy it though. PRICES We paid £100 per night for our two night stay in this hotel. While this is probably more than we would normally pay for a B and B for this place I think it's a good price. This is a winter offer, however, and the normal price of the room that we stayed in would be £130. Considering the size of the room and the quality of everything in the hotel I think the prices are absolutely fair enough. The prices for the Lounge Bar were very reasonable. Some examples would be a glass of wine for £2.80, a beer for £2.50, a Baileys for £1.50 and vodka was £2.60. All soft drinks were 60p and snacks were 60p. The whiskies in the Whiskey Room were £4 each. RECOMMENDED I think you can probably tell that I think this hotel is something pretty special! There really is nothing bad that I can say about it (apart from one dirty coffee pot). Everything was comfortable, the décor was stunning, the ability to have a bath in a roll top bath with a view of a castle was like being in heaven. The breakfast was delicious and the service was brilliant. There are just so many added touches of luxury while at the same time giving an old fashioned homely feeling. I would go back in a heartbeat!
I recently ended up in the Preview Bar and Grill. This was not my choice but Mr Tart and I were meeting some other people and they wanted to go there so we joined in. Mr Tart had been before and said that I wouldn't like it and he was completely right (don't tell him though - doesn't happen too often!). LOCATION Preview is located just off junction 17 of the M5 opposite the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre. It is part of the Venue complex which also features a cinema and other restaurants such as Frankie and Benny's and Bella Italia. EXPERIENCE Upon arrival you have to wait to pay before you can even sit down. This did not bode well for me. I really don't like the idea of having to pay for food before I've even really seen what's on offer. However, as I said we were meeting people so I smiled through it and paid up. Our food was £9.95 each for the all you can eat buffet. It is cheaper at lunchtime I believe. We also went for the unlimited drink refills which were £2.25 each. Once we'd paid we were allowed through the barrier (you know you're in a classy restaurant when there's a barrier....) and were given our glasses. We sat in a booth. There is a variety of tables and booths and there is certainly plenty of seating in the restaurant. The atmosphere was pretty awful. The lighting was bright and harsh. There were a few families in the place and lots of larger clientele filling their plates (no offence meant, I'm saying what I saw). There was nothing on the table. You had to help yourself to cutlery and crockery. The plates were pretty tiny but I guess that's fair enough when it's all you can eat. Next to the cutlery place there was a drinks fountain where you could have Sprite, Coke or Fanta. There was quite a wide selection of different types of food. I started with the salad bar. I avoided the lettuce because it looked tired and a little brown. The rest of the salad was fairly standard fare: tomatoes, beetroot and pasta salad. There were four dressings to choose from including thousand island and Caesar. On the salad bar you could also have prawn cocktail but there was no way I was going to be eating seafood from this place! The salad wasn't terrible, I ate it all. I also tried the pizza which was edible but fairly dull. The Italian section also had two pastas and I wanted to try the carbonara but didn't have enough room to fit it in. I did try the Chinese section where I had chow mein, spring rolls and mixed vegetables. I put some soy sauce on this but it was very overpowering. You could also have grilled food, including burgers. There was a British section where you could have fish and chips but the chips looked very soggy so I didn't have any. There was an Indian section which I avoided as I'm not a fan of anything spicy. One big problem was that once you'd finished one plate you didn't want to have the same one to go and eat something else. My first one had salad dressing all over it and I didn't fancy that with my chow mein. The staff took a ridiculous amount of time to clear our table. Normally I would just have left my plate on another table but I was with people I didn't know and didn't want to seem naughty! There was also a selection of desserts at the Preview buffet. Mr Tart was kept amused by the Mr Whippy style ice cream machine (as I'm sure most children would be....). Once in the bowl you could add chocolate sauce and sweets to the top of this. I went for chocolate ice cream from the freezer (cones were available if you wanted them) and you could also have Angel Delight (yuk!). We finished our food around 8.30. We then started being hassled by the staff asking us if we wanted any more and if we had finished. They even started turning the lights off! I could understand if they said on the way in that they close at 9 and is that ok, but there was nothing like this. I felt as if I was being thrown out. OVERALL Well overall I was very unimpressed with this place. There are a couple of big problems. One is the price. I think that £9.95 is actually not very good value considering how many set price menu offers and vouchers there are available for much nicer restaurants. I know that in Preview you get a dessert as well but I would much rather go to Pizza Express and probably pay the same price for a freshly made pizza. The food at Preview was edible and some of it was even tasty in a fast food way but I really dislike fast food so it wasn't for me. The next problem for me was the atmosphere. Having a barrier and having to pay before going in was really off putting. I found the seating quite uncomfortable and the general atmosphere like I was in a cafeteria. The staff weren't rude but the time it took to clear our plates and then hassling us to leave and starting to turn the lights off was unacceptable in my opinion. I guess I'm just not cut out for this place. To me it was like feeding time at the zoo, with gannets being the main attraction. I have used the word restaurant in the review because I didn't know what else to call it but I can't really give it that title when I think of some of the amazing restaurants I've eaten in. To my mind this place is not the bargain it makes out and there are much better value restaurants that serve freshly prepared food for around the same price where the atmosphere is much more welcoming.
After four days on the Inca Trail we were ready for some comfort when we arrived back in Cusco. We booked this hotel before we left the UK. We knew we'd be getting back late from Machu Picchu so we decided to have somewhere nice ready to receive us. Location The hotel is on Kurkurpata. It wasn't the easiest hotel to find but that may have been due to the lack of knowledge on the part of our taxi driver. We had an address and a small map of it but he had no clue. He ended up driving around for ages and then having to stop to phone them, before dropping us in the Plaza de San Blas, a couple of minutes walk away. The road that the hotel is on has no access for cars (or at least we never saw any and our taxi driver didn't take us to the door) so if you have lots of bags then it is perhaps not ideal. The location is good in general, however. It is located near the Plaza de San Blas, which is a pretty square with lots of restaurants and shops nearby. It is only a five minute walk to the Plaza del Armas, the main square in Cusco. The area around the hotel is quiet and not too touristy which is always a bonus for us. Check in Despite our arrival not being until about 11.30pm, the desk was manned. You have to knock on the door, however, this is true at all times of the day. All hotels in Cusco seem to keep their doors locked throughout the day. The check in process was smooth and efficient and took no time. The Room Our room was a small apartment type room. On the ground floor there was a kitchen area with everything you'd need if you wanted to do self-catering. There was a large fridge, oven, hob, pots, pans and crockery. They also provided some basic foods, which you had to pay for if used, such as pasta and sauce. In the fridge there was a selection of drinks to choose from, again not free, and snacks on top of the fridge. Down here there was also a sofa, although it wasn't the most comfortable I've ever sat on. The bathroom was downstairs. There was no bath, just a shower but it was a really lovely powerful shower and to us after four days on the Inca Trail it was like heaven! The hotel provided the usual toiletries, including a lovely exfoliating soap. There were plenty of towels provided and everything was spotlessly clean. Upstairs was the bedroom area. The stairs themselves were wooden and quite slippery so be very careful walking around with socks on. The bedroom had a flatscreen TV, which had a good selection of channels including some English language ones. There was a safe, hanging area and a large double bed. Before that night I'd spent three nights sleeping on the floor in a tent so to us it felt like sleeping on air to sleep on any bed! However, it remained comfortable on the second night so I don't think it was just my post-Trail state talking. There was plenty of bedding for warmth as we were there during the cold period and there were plenty of pillows. Again, everything was spotless and cleaned daily. Breakfast At this hotel you rang down to reception and breakfast was brought to your room: bliss - breakfast in bed! You could order tea or coffee along with eggs cooked to your liking. Along with this there was a bowl of fruit and a selection of bread and jams. While not as extensive as a buffet breakfast the ability to have it in bed was an added luxury and the food was very tasty so I did not feel hard done by. Other Points There was free wifi in the hotel, although we only had one phone with us with which to connect to this so we did not really use it. There was also a computer in the hotel which guests could use to access the Internet which was really useful. There was never anyone else using the computer so we didn't have to wait at any point. Around the computer there was a selection of books for guests to read or exchange, which I always think it a bonus in a hotel, especially one that is a long way from home as it is a pain to take a lot of books on holiday. In general the hotel was very quiet and we didn't hear or really see any of the other guests. The hotel was nicely decorated although I felt that the rooms were a little bland. Price The price was $75 per night (about £47). We booked the hotel through booking.com and this was the price they gave us. I think this was a fair price for the hotel. Cusco hotels are sought after so seem to be more expensive than the average price in Peru. I would have certainly expected to pay more for it if it were in Europe as the room was lovely. Conclusion I would say that this is a good choice for a Cusco hotel. The room was comfortable and clean and the breakfast was good. The staff were friendly and the shower was like heaven after the Inca Trail. However, we stayed in another Cusco hotel before the Trail, the Mirador Los Apus, and I did prefer that one. It had a lot more character and I think if I were going back to Cusco I would chose that one.
Myself and Mr Tart recently took a trip up north which he offered to organise. On the drive up there he kept joking that we were going to a campsite. While I didn't believe that I was definitely surprised when we turned up at Lumley Castle. Being a historian, staying in a 14th century castle was like a dream for me and excited didn't quite cover it! THE CASTLE Lumley Castle was originally built turned into a castle in the late 14th century by Sir Ralph Lumley. After various transfers of ownership, including Durham University, it was taken over the 'No Ordinary Hotel' group in the 70s. CHECKING IN The Castle has ample car parking, both surrounding the building and in the courtyard between the main castle building and the annex. We went into the reception and check in was extremely quick and easy. The reception had a very old-castle feel, complete with old wooden furniture. Some of the staff were dressed in period costume which was a little random although plays to the tourist market! Once we'd checked in a nice man showed us to our room. The hotel is a bit of a maze so this is definitely necessary. On the way he pointed out the various public rooms and told us the various times we could use the bar and eat breakfast. I apparently walked through the hotel with my mouth open in a sense of awe. I was amazed to be staying somewhere like this and all the old paintings and authentic looking furniture made me very happy. THE ROOM Our room was in the main part of the hotel on the second floor. The room was small but I was staying in a castle so it could have been the size of a cardboard box and I still would have been like a kid in a sweetshop. The décor was quite Victorian to my mind, and very green. I believe that the rooms are all decorated slightly differently. The décor was very well done I thought. There was a small awning around the head of the bed with green and gold curtains. In the corner was a comfortable wing-backed chair. Opposite the bed was a flat screen TV as well as tea and coffee making facilities with some really tasty biscuits (chocolate chip and orange were my favourites!). Next to the TV was a small hanging area which had a trouser press incorporated into it which was quite useful for Mr Tart's trousers as we'd been travelling for a few days. In one corner of the room, up some steps, was a corner bath, with an elaborate curtain around it should you need privacy. This also had a shower above it. The bath was very comfortable to lie in and relax before dinner and there was plenty of hot water, although they do tell you that the hot water may take up to 5 minutes to reach the taps as the castle is old which is absolutely fair enough. There were no shampoos or conditioners on offer, but there was a bottle of shower gel attached to the wall which had a gorgeous smell. In the other corner of the room was the toilet, which had a door rather than a curtain. This reminded me of a Victorian washroom. There was soap provided in here. The bed was extremely comfortable to sleep in. There were two pillows and some cushions provided each. I think some people may have found the bed a little soft. We both slept really well although the pipes do make quite a lot of noise at times. The Castle is supposedly very haunted (the Aussie cricket team claimed they saw ghosts when they stayed there) but I'm glad to say I didn't see any. Not sure if I'd feel so happy about staying there if I had seen one but it was worth the risk! FACILITIES The grounds of the hotel are lovely to walk around. I just loved walking around the outside and looking at the castle. Inside the castle there is the Library Bar on the ground floor where we went for a pre dinner drink. I love old books so this was a perfect place for me. There was a log fire in here when we went in which really added to the atmosphere. We decided to treat ourselves to a bottle of prosecco which was delicious. This was £20 per bottle which I didn't think was too bad. During the afternoon you can also order afternoon tea in this bar. While we were enjoying our bubbly we ordered our dinner. We had booked a table for 8pm and went to the bar quite early. They told us we could order at any time and then the food would be ready for the time we booked the table. We ordered at about 7pm and they tried to call us through almost immediately, so make sure they know exactly what time you want to eat. We did say we'd booked the table for later and that we wanted to finish our drinks first and they were absolutely fine with this. We then went into the Black Knight restaurant. The restaurant is decorated perfectly in a gothic style, with red flocked wallpaper. Again, for me it was like a dream, eating in a castle! We started off with some bread being brought to us, this was warmed which is always one of my tests for a really classy restaurant. The menu has some lovely choices on it, including some that you probably wouldn't expect. For starters there are things like pea and lettuce soup, chicken terrine and Japanese style monkfish cheeks (who knew!!). I had the scallops, served with wild mushrooms, baby onions and cauliflower foam and they were absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked. Mr Tart had the crispy Chinese beef which came with a teriyaki dressing. This seemed out of keeping with our castle surroundings but he said that it was very tasty. For main course you can choose things like pork served three ways with apple beignets, apple and sage jelly, Savoy cabbage and sautéed Parisienne potatoes with a cider sage jus, duck with beetroot gnocchi and a blue cheese and rocket sauce. There was also a large selection from the grill. I had their signature dish: beef fillet, stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in Parma ham served on potato rosti with wild mushrooms and port wine jus. This was amazing. The beef was perfectly cooked, very rare just like I asked. The food needed no extra seasoning. The blue cheese in the beef was not overpowering but just enough and had all melted, despite the fact that I was having my beef rare. Definitely in my top five of main meals ever eaten out. Mr Tart ordered the sea bass with sautéed garden peas with smokey pancetta, crisp Parmentier potatoes dressed in a seed mustard and dill hollandaise. He said that it was very tasty as well but he did have food envy because mine tasted so good (he won't ever order the same thing as me as he wants to see what the kitchen can do!). Mr Tart and myself were pretty full after our meal and didn't have room for dessert but the list looked pretty good. There was sticky toffee pudding (my favourite), mango panna cotta and iced peanut parfait. The prices in the restaurant were not cheap but the standard of food was very high. My starter cost £8.95 and my main cost £26.50, Mr Tart's were £7.50 and £19. As a comparison the soup would have been £6.50 and the duck £16. Most of the desserts were around £6.50. These are definitely 'treat' prices but the food was worth it. I would have dinner there again even if I wasn't staying in the hotel as it's worth it just for the experience of eating in the castle! We also had breakfast in the Black Knight Restaurant. There was a cold buffet of cereals, pastries, juices, cold meats and yoghurts. You could then choose from a hot menu as well and I had the eggs Benedict as it's one of my favourite things but I never have it at home because it's such a faff to cook. This came with Parma ham so was extra delicious. The breakfast selection was excellent and there was plenty of it. PRICES Staying in Lumley Castle is not cheap. Our room cost £125 for the night, with breakfast included. It's cheaper to stay in the courtyard part of the castle but there are rooms that are much more expensive. While I wouldn't normally pay this much for a hotel I think to stay in a place that is this nice and that has this much history it's worth it. OVERALL This was definitely one of the best hotels I've ever stayed in. There wasn't a swimming pool and there weren't lots of modern five star luxuries but for me, staying in a 14th century castle was perfect. The staff at the hotel were very polite and attentive at all times. The décor was beautiful and the food was stunning. I would certainly stay there again and would recommend it to everyone.
Mr Tart decided to surprise me with a meal out to Berwick Lodge recently. Despite living in Bristol I had not heard of it, but I shall certainly be telling everyone about it from now on. Mr Tart found out about it as he was looking on the website of another amazing Bristol restaurant, Bell's Diner, and they have the same head chef. Location Berwick Lodge is located just off the Cribbs Causeway exit of the M5, on the outskirts of Bristol. It is down a country lane and you need to follow the postcode suggested on their website rather than their actual postcode if using Sat Nav. Be warned the lane had some enormous potholes so drive carefully! Arrival The Lodge looks lovely from the outside. It is a manor house which has been restored and turned into a hotel and restaurant. There is plenty of parking around the Lodge. The noise of the motorway was noticeable for those thinking of staying there but certainly not terrible. We had a quick look at the grounds which seemed lovely. As we went in our coats were taken and the staff were immediately friendly and attentive. When we arrived at about 7.15 on a Saturday evening we were the only ones in the dining room. When Mr Tart booked he was told that they were busy at 8 so to book for 7.30. However, we were the only ones until around 8 which felt a little weird but we did have the staff's undivided attention. The dining room is stunning. There are chandeliers and the alcoves were lit with candles. We ordered two glasses of champagne as an aperitif and they were brought by the sommelier who brought the bottle to show us as well. The sommelier was French, which always seems to be the mark of a classy establishment, and he was dressed in a tuxedo lovely! The Food To start with we were brought some nibbles. We had marinaded olives, sweet roasted walnuts and mushroom risotto balls. These were all delicious, especially the olives which I love. We were then brought an amuse bouche of a tiny piece of lamb coated in breadcumbs. To start I had the 'Saffron, squid ink and crab tortellini, cauliflower and split bisque dressing'. This was three tortellini which were absolutely delicious, although I did think they were slightly underseasoned. For my main course I had the 'haunch of venison, pumpkin, herb panna cotta, plum, juniper and sage'. WOW! I really think that it was one of the best main courses I've eaten in my life. The venison was perfectly cooked. There were things on the dish that I would normally be a little wary of. I don't like panna cotta as a dessert but the herb one complimented the dish perfectly. Again, I don't normally like fruit with meat that much (I know it's a classic but it's just me!). However the plum with this went incredibly well. The whole dish was just stunning and my mouth is watering as I'm writing about it! Dessert obviously had to be done. After the starter and main we were comfortable enough to fit a dessert in. I had the '8 texture valrhona chocolate'. I'll admit I did have to ask the waitress what on earth I would be getting. It turned out to be a cake type base with layers of chocolate, served with a spoonful of chocolate ice cream, chocolate powder and a roll of chocolate (like a brandy snap) filled with a type of white chocolate. Obviously not one for you if you don't have a sweet tooth! The dessert was really tasty but it was quite heavy so I wouldn't recommend if you were feeling a little full after your main. Mr Tart had the 'citrus cured rainbow trout, onion and beetroot' which I didn't try as I'm not a huge fan of fish. He said it was great with the texture of smoked salmon but without the smoky flavour. For his main he had the 'Diary House Estate Pheasant, barley, celeriac, blackberries and whisky'. I did try this and again it was cooked perfectly. He raved about it and even when we got home he kept coming out with "wow, that pheasant was just amazing at random moments. For dessert he had the 'peach, lavender, honeycomb, yoghurt, star anise and filo'. Again I didn't try this as my dessert was taking up my time, concentration and remaining stomach space, but he was raving about it again and said how interesting (in a good way) it was. Drinks As I said we had a delicious glass of champagne to start. For the rest of the meal I drank tap water (I refuse to pay money for water!). Mr Tart had a glass of white chosen by the sommelier for his starter which he enjoyed. For his main he chose a glass of red and then the sommelier suggested his dessert wine to match his chosen dessert. Mr Tart said there were some lovely wines on the list, although by-the-glass options were obviously more limited. He also said that the wines were unusual but that they went really well with the food, which was the same thing he said when we went to Bell's Diner. Service The service was excellent and really attentive. We only had two slight bugbears. The first was that they didn't keep our water topped up and that when Mr Tart finished his wine they didn't ask if he'd like anything else (too much of this can be very irritating but occasionally would have been nice). It was surprising as they were at our table a lot. The other bugbear was that at the end of the meal we were left for a long time waiting to pay. However, these shouldn't detract from the great service in general. We were asked if we enjoyed each dish and brought everything (except the card machine) very quickly. Price OK, so here's the bit that hurt. I don't know what the bill was as it was Mr Tart's treat but I can give you some examples of how much the dishes cost. My starter was £9.50, my main was £20.50 and my dessert was £9.50. I did have some of the priciest things on the menu though! This place isn't cheap by any means. However, when the food is as good as it was we didn't mind paying the prices. Conclusion I still can't believe that I didn't know about this place. It was a wonderful meal. At the prices, it's not a place for everyday but in my opinion it was worth the money for the experience and amazing food. There are also 10 rooms in the Lodge and for a special occasions I think it looked like a beautiful place to stay. Berwick Lodge9
Recently Mr Tart and myself went up to London for the weekend to see Phantom of the Opera. We were staying very near the theatre which is on Haymarket so we wanted somewhere close to the theatre to eat as well. I'd printed off some of Martin's (money saving expert) two for one vouchers but as we use these quite a lot we decided we would only use them as a back up if we couldn't find anything else. I'd remembered that there was an Italian restaurant opposite the theatre so we headed there first. It turned out to be Galileo's and we both liked the look of it so we chose it for our meal. LOCATION AND OPENING HOURS: Galileo's is located at 71 Haymarket in central London across the road from Her Majesty's Theatre. The nearest tube station is Piccadilly which is served by the Piccadilly and Bakerloo Lines. The restaurant is open every day for lunch and dinner. On Monday to Thursday it is open from 12pm to 11pm. On Friday and Saturday it is open from 12pm to 11.30pm and on Sunday from 12pm to 10.30pm. EXPERIENCE: The weather was absolutely horrible the night we went and only having one umbrella between us we were glad to get in somewhere quickly! The restaurant looks fairly standard from the outside and fairly Pizza Express and Prezzo like in its décor and layout. We were seated and provided with menus straight away. The restaurant has two levels and seats 120 people but it was pretty full due to its location. We were sat on the top level opposite the door which was fine because although it was raining it was relatively mild. However, I could see this being a problem if it was in the depths of some of the freezing weather we've had recently with people constantly going in and out of the door. The waitress came over very quickly and asked us for our drinks order. A we were ordering from the set menu and there weren't very many choices on it we were ready to order our food straight away too. Our drinks (2 Peronis) came very quickly, with frosted glasses, which I think is a good touch, as well as the glasses of water which we asked for. The Peronis were averagely priced at £2.60 per bottle. Mr Tart had been planning to get a glass of wine but he thought that the wine was overpriced at £4.10 for the cheapest glass of house red or white. Our starters came quickly which with a pre theatre restaurant is exactly what you want, even though at other times it might have felt a little rushed. I think that if you had ordered from the a la carte menu it would have taken longer for the food as I would think that most people would order from the set menu. To start I chose the mixed salamis with olives. This was four pieces of different salamis and green olives. It was really delicious although it could maybe have done with some bread and dipping oil to go with it. Mr Tart had the smoked salmon roll filled with prawn, cucumber, mayonnaise and chives, which he said was really nice but that it was a little small for him - I'm fairly convinced that the man has hollow legs! For the main course I had the mushroom risotto. Again, this was very good. There wasn't a huge amount but risotto is always quite filling so it was plenty for me. There were big, proper pieces of mushrooms in the risotto which were really tasty. The food was well seasoned and didn't need any salt added to it. The one thing that wasn't offered was any parmesan which I was a little disappointed by when I thought about it after - although I didn't worry enough to remember to ask for it at the time! Mr Tart had the roast pork loin which was served with Cannellini beans. He was really happy with it although again the portion wasn't huge. I chose not to have dessert as I didn't fancy either of the choices on the set menu, but Mr Tart went for the tiramisu. He really liked this and was happy with his choice. The set menu only had three starters, three mains and two desserts to choose from so there's not a lot a leeway if you don't like certain things but I'm known for my fussiness and it suited me really well. There is lots of choice on the a la carte menu as well. There are pizzas which range in price from £7.20 to £12.85. There are also meat, pasta and fish dishes available. Lots of them sound really tasty but I thought some were quite expensive (for example the sirloin steak was over £20). There is a good dessert menu as well but I thought this was really expensive (with ice cream at nearly £6 and cheese cake or panna cotta at nearly £7). Our meal came to just under £35 not including the tip. My meal was £11.95 and Mr Tart's was £14.95 and there were three beers altogether. I thought that this wasn't bad value considering the central London location, but the choice of food was limited and the portions were quite small. We were lucky that we were staying so close so we didn't have to pay for transport. A two for one meal with a voucher would have been cheaper but it was nice to try something different. CONCLUSION: We both enjoyed our meal at Galileo's. The food was really tasty. However, although for the location the price wasn't bad, I think that for the amount of food it was quite pricey. A case of swings and roundabouts! I would recommend the restaurant for a pre-theatre dinner. The a la carte menu looks really nice but I think the prices would prevent me choosing it as I'm not sure that the standard of the restaurant warrants those prices and you'd just be paying for the location. So I'm giving Galileo's four stars for the meal we had, good food in a good location, taking one off for the small portions and the limited choices.
On our second night in Rome Mr Tart and I were trying to find somewhere to eat. After trawling through our Lonely Planet city guide we came across Sergio alle Grotte. It was described as looking like an Italian trattoria should look like and with good food so we thought we'd give it a go. LOCATION: Sergio alle Grotte is located at Vicolo delle Grotte 27 in the Centro Storico, or historic centre. It's a side road so you probably wouldn't come across the restaurant just wandering round, you need to look to find it. It is close to the Campo de' Fiori which is known for its bars. EXPERIENCE: We had a look at the menu on the way in and decided it looked pretty nice. Inside the restaurant had seating for around 50 people. In the summer they have tables outside as well. It was decorated quite traditionally with Italian pictures of the walls and checked tablecloths. We were shown to a table and given menus straight away. The waiter was very helpful and the service was quick all night. I'm not sure how much English the waiter spoke as we spoke to him mostly in Italian but I'm sure he would have had enough to serve those who had no Italian. For the starter Mr Tart and I decided to share the antipasto platter. We were immediately given a basket of bread and some packets of bread sticks. We were happy that this restaurant provided us with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping the bread which a lot of other restaurants didn't. It makes such a difference and made the bread so much tastier. The platter had a delicious mixture of meats including the all important Parma ham which I adore! There was also a wedge of hard cheese, some mozzarella and some olives. This platter was cheaper than the one we had the night before at Navona Notte (see other review) and it was a lot tastier so we were happy bunnies. For the main course I went for the beef steak. The meat was cooked perfectly for me - medium rare (although they didn't ask me how I wanted it cooked so be aware of that if you normally go for well done) and it was really tasty. It was quite fatty but I was expecting this so it didn't matter. We chose a couple of side dishes to go with our meat dishes as they don't usually come with anything else. We had roasted potatoes and beans, which were butter beans served with celery. My main was really good and I'd recommend it. Mr Tart had the lamb skewers which he wasn't as happy with. He'd wanted something else but they'd run out of it. He did like the skewers but said they weren't as tasty as my beef. To drink Mr Tart had a carafe of red wine and I had a bottle of Peroni - both yummy! We didn't have any water as they didn't offer tap water and my Italian didn't stretch to 'tap') and I refuse to pay for bottled water if I can help it! The menu was fairly extensive and offered lots of Italian food. Looking at the other diners their food all looked really good and I would quite happily have chosen lots of different things from the menu. There was also a choice of desserts which you could look at in the chiller cabinet. Mr Tart went straight for the tiramisu, which was an enormous portion! He did it justice and said it was really good. I'm not sure of the exact amount we paid as we've lost the receipt but it was between Euro40 and Euro50 for both of us including the tip. CONCLUSION: I would highly recommend Sergio's if you're in Rome and looking for a traditional trattoria meal. The restaurant does some really great food and offers pretty good value for money. The fact that it is on a side street means that the prices aren't too high and it isn't too touristy. It is close enough to Campo de' Fiori to be in a convenient location, however. The service was great all night. I would definitely return if I go back to Rome.
I'm a pretty strange version of a 26 year old, I rarely drink, I spend my spare time looking at old buildings, I listen to Terry Wogan in the mornings (alas he's now gone, but I shall probably tune in to the Sunday show when that starts!) and I have a penchant for country music! On my trips to the States I kept hearing a song which really grabbed my interest. However, I never paid too much attention as to who the song was actually by and it wasn't until I had an HMV voucher to spare that I decided to look the album out. WHO IS CARRIE UNDERWOOD? Carrie Underwood was the winner of the fourth season of American Idol and therefore follows in the footsteps of another favourite of mine, Kelly Clarkson. She won in 2005 and has since released two albums (with the third coming later this year). She's generally known for country style music although it often has a pop side to it as well. Since winning Idol she's been incredibly successful in America but is not at all well known over her. THE ALBUM: Some Hearts was Underwood's first album and was released in 2005. Underwood has a very rich voice which I really like. Mr Tart said she sounded like Christina Aguilera and I have to agree, although there is a country edge to it. Mr Tart also appreciated that Carrie Underwood is somewhat 'easy on the eye' and enjoyed examining the album cover and poster that comes inside. I'll go through the tracks to give you some idea of what to expect. 1. Wasted: This song was the fourth single released by Underwood. The song starts of with quite a soulful sound to it, but the chorus is much livelier. The song is about people being addicted, in the first verse it is a woman who has to leave a relationship and the second is a man who is addicted to alcohol. I think the verses are more soulful to show the people dealing with the addictions 'for one split second, she almost turned around, but that would be like pouring raindrops back into a cloud' whereas the chorus is livelier showing the new positive attitude of the people 'I don't want to spend my life jaded, waiting to wake up one day and find, that I've let all these years go by wasted'. I really like this song, it's not a traditional country theme and I think that makes it stand out and I really like the way the tune mimics the positive actions taken by the people. 2. Don't Forget to Remember Me: Another of my favourite tracks as I really like the sentiment of the song. The song is about Underwood leaving home. The first verse is her mother saying 'don't forget to remember me' and the second is Underwood saying it to her mother over the phone once she's left. I think the words don't forget to remember me are so appropriate for lots of situations. The song is quite slow paced and Underwood's rich voice comes through really well in it. 3. Some Hearts: The title track on the album is not one of my favourites but I can't really explain why. It's quite upbeat and is about someone who is feeling lucky because of her relationship. 'Some hearts just get lucky sometimes, even hearts like mine'. This song is a bit more pop than country. It's definitely still a good song and quite catchy, just not one of the best. 4. Jesus Take the Wheel: Religion is often a theme in country music and God is mentioned more than once in Underwood's songs. This is the most explicitly religious song. It is about a young woman driving home to see her parents on Christmas Eve with her baby in the back when she crashes 'before she knew she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass'. As the car is crashing she cries for 'Jesus to Take the Wheel'. Whether you agree with the religious message of the song or not, it is a beautiful song, quite slow paced as fitting the content and really shows off her voice. 5. The Night Before (Life Goes On): This is definitely a favourite of mine. I think it's a sentiment that most people can relate to. The song is about a young couple who are going to be split up when she goes to university and how they spend their last night together. The music to this song has a country twang and is reasonably quick paced. I think everyone has had a night when they know that something will change the next day and they are enjoying the last night before they face it. 6. Lessons Learned: Another one which I think we can all relate to. This is an upbeat song which is really catchy. The song is about how all the experiences of life are lessons learned and how she appreciates every one of them. 'I'm thankful for every break in my heart, I'm grateful for every scar'. The verses build start slowly and build up to a crescendo of the main message of the song. 7. Before he Cheats: This was the song that I kept hearing on American radio which inspired me to get the album. I absolutely love this song. It has a very country feel and is a really fun song to sing along to. It is about a girl that's been cheated on and how she takes revenge. The verses are her imagining her ex with his new lady 'right now he's probably buying her some fruity little drink 'cos she can't shoot whisky'. The chorus is her revenge 'I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seats'. The lyrics are great (although Underwood didn't write them) with my favourite line being 'right now she's probably saying I'm drunk, and he's thinking that he's gonna to get lucky'. It's such a catchy song it's no wonder that it's still played all the time on American radio. For me, it is the best song on the album. 8. Starts with Goodbye: A really powerful song. It starts out with Underwood singing very soulfully, but the chorus is faster paced and very strong sounding. The song is about breaking up with someone 'it's sad but sometimes moving on with the rest of your life, starts with goodbye'. The only bit of the song I don't like is the ending with the lyrics 'na na na na' being repeated - I don't think those lyrics go with the song but the rest of the song is really good. 9. I Just Can't Live a Lie: This song is about problems in a relationship but how she doesn't want to give up on it. The title actually relates to how she would feel if she ended the relationship rather than how she feels in it. This is another soulful song with stronger choruses and another one that I really like. 10. We're Young and Beautiful: This song sounds very Christina Aguilera like to me. It's one of the most upbeat songs on the album. 'While we're young and beautiful, we'll party down on main street, wearing next to nothing, feeling every heartbeat'. I really like this one and find myself dancing along to it. 11. That's Where it is: Not my favourite song on the album but still good for a sing along. The lyrics relate to her finding someone and when she's in his arms 'that's where it is'. Again the song follows the pattern of soulful verses and a more powerful chorus. 12. Whenever You Remember: This is a slower song with Underwood again showing the range of her voice. The lyrics are about looking back over a relationship, 'when you look back on times we had, I hope you smile, and know that through the good and through the bad I was on your side'. This song is really beautiful and one of the best I think. 13. I Ain't in Checotah Anymore: This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It's very upbeat and is the only song on the album that Underwood helped to write. This is a very country sounding song. Underwood is from the town of Checotah in Oklahoma. The song describes the town and the differences she comes across now she's famous and living in New York, 'My hotel in Manhattan, holds more people than our town, and what I just paid for dinner, would be a down payment on a house'. This song is really fun and the lyrics are quite funny. I especially like the mention of my Mecca when I'm in the States - WalMart! Definitely a sing along song that gets everyone moving. 14. Inside Your Heaven: This is the song that Underwood released as the winning American Idol single. The song is quite slow paced. It's a good song but not my favourite on the album, I think because it's a little different from the other songs as it was written for the show rather than for the album. CONCLUSION: This is definitely my album of the moment. I absolutely love it! I have it on in the car and quite happily sing along! Underwood has an amazing voice and her songs are great. Even the ones that I've said aren't my favourite I would still rate highly. It certainly isn't an album that will be to everyone's taste but if you like country style popular music then you should check this out.
On our first night in Rome we were looking for somewhere close by to eat. We asked the owner of the apartment where we were staying and he recommended a couple of places. We chose Navona Notte because it was the closest and it was supposed to be reasonably priced. LOCATION: Navona Notte is located at 44 via del Teatro Pace. It is just off Piazza Navona but as it is located in a side street it is cheaper than the restaurants on the Piazza itself. EXPERIENCE: We arrived at the restaurant at about 8pm and we were absolutely starving! We looked at the menu outside, decided that it looked fine for our needs so we headed in and asked for a table for two. We were shown to a table at the back of the restaurant. The place has seating for about 50 people inside and some seating outside as well. Inside the decoration was fairly traditionally Italian with painted landscape scenes on the walls and checked table clothes. The restaurant is not that big inside and they really pack the tables in so it's not the place to go if you're claustrophobic! The menu was in English as well so it was easy to work out what we wanted. The waiting staff were very efficient and polite all night. Most of them spoke some English which was helpful when our Italian ran out. To start we shared the Italian hors d'oeuvres for two. When it came it consisted of a basket of bread, different meats and two bruschetta. The bread was nice but there were no dipping oils which meant that it was dry. We were fairly surprised at the lack of oils but to be fair we didn't ask so I'm not sure if we could have got some. The bruschetta were really nice: covered in mozzarella and tomato. The meats were nice as well, although there were too many of the cheaper looking ones for me and not enough Parma ham. The pieces of Parma ham and salami were delicious but some of the others were a bit plastic-y and didn't taste as nice. For the main course I had the capricciosa pizza. This was a really thin base and the toppings were Parma ham, artichoke, mushrooms, egg and olives. The pizza was delicious and all the toppings were really tasty. I would have preferred all the toppings to have been spread all over the pizza instead of confined to different areas as they were but this seems to be an Italian thing as I experienced it at other restaurants as well. Mr Tart had the four cheese gnocchi (parmesan, gorgonzola, caciotta and gruyere). As we both tried each other's I can comment on how his tasted as well. The gnocchi was piping hot and really tasty but it was incredibly rich and I know that I couldn't have eaten the bowlful that Mr Tart had. Mr Tart was feeling very full after it and had to sleep sitting up slightly (and he eats like a horse normally and nothing usually effects him so this must have been rich!). To drink Mr Tart had a half litre of the house red wine and I had a bottle of beer. The drinks menu was not extensive. There were a few wines, two types of bottled beer and one beer on tap. At the beginning the waiter asked us if we wanted water and we thought that being asked like that would mean it was tap water. However, he brought over a bottle which we were of course charged for. This wasn't a huge problem but it does bother me paying for water in places where the tap water is fine to drink so we made sure we said no in future and took our own refilled bottle if we needed water. The other things on the menu were a mix of traditional Italian food. There were lots and lots of pizzas, together with pastas with various toppings. Both Mr Tart and I could quite happily have chosen lots of things on the menu. There were desserts as well but we were stuffed after our massive main courses, but they included the usual panna cotta and tiramisu. CONCLUSION: Our meal cost us Euro37.50 not including a tip. We didn't think it was a bad price considering it's proximity to Piazza Navona, although food on the Continent all seems expensive now because of the Euro! We were slightly unimpressed with the starter. Although the meat was nice it needed something else with it like some olives and dipping oil for the bread. The main courses were very tasty and clearly fresh. The service was also good. If you had asked me on the night I probably would have given Navona Notte four stars for doing what was asked of it it was never meant to be gourmet. However, we ate at places offering the same types of food later in the holiday which were much better and also cheaper, hence the three star verdict. I think if you're looking for a reasonable meal close to Piazza Navona then I would recommend this place. However, if you can travel to other areas I think that there are better places in Rome (see future reviews!!).
I have been doing supply teaching for over a year now. I thought I'd write about my experiences and give some advice to those who might be thinking of supply work. BACKGROUND: I trained to be a teacher in 2006-7. I had never wanted to be a teacher, it was never something I always dreamed of being. I had always planned to be a lawyer. However, after studying History at university I knew that I wanted to work with the subject. I went on to do a Masters in museum studies and thought seriously about working in that field but the money was really bad and there were a lot of people trying to get very few jobs. I took a year out to think and to earn some money. The ex-Mr Tart wanted to go into teaching (he was also a historian) and I thought that seeing as I wanted to work in History there were worse things I could do. Not a particularly promising and enthusiastic start I'll admit but it does get better! As soon as I started my PGCE I knew that I'd made the right decision. My passion for my subject was never in questioned but I was really happy to realise that I loved working with young people. It was a great year. Jobs for the following September were few and far between, especially in the south-west where I live, so I took a maternity cover for a year. Although I knew that the job would only be for a year I also knew that it would get my NQT year done and I'd be fully qualified by the end of it. The school was brilliant and I had a fantastic Head of Department who helped me get through my first year. It confirmed my belief that I had made the right career choice. Throughout that year I applied for jobs. I had a couple of interviews but nothing came of them. The south-west is saturated with History teachers and of course fewer are leaving jobs now because of the dreaded (cue whiny voice) 'current economic climate'. Having no job meant going into supply teaching, something I dreaded but knew was a necessity. The first thing you need to do when thinking of supply teaching is to join an agency. I was referred to an agency by the school that I worked in, in my first year, My old school said they were good and they were also their first choice so I hoped I might get some days working back there as I loved working there. My agency is Teaching Personnel. They have offices throughout the UK and I've found them pretty good. To start with they phoned me as I'd been recommended by my old school. Over the phone my they asked me lots about my education and work history. We then arranged for me to go to their offices to register properly and meet my personal consultant. My consultant and I had a long chat about what sort of work I wanted and in what schools. She took some more details and photocopied my ID and arranged for a new CRB check. We also discussed payments. They offered me a daily rate which I was happy with so I signed the contract. I was made to feel very comfortable with the whole process and my consultant was lovely. After the meeting they then prepared a CV for me based on the information I'd given, which would then be used to send to schools who were looking for people. BOOKINGS: Once sign up is complete the waiting game begins. For the first few weeks in September I set my alarm for 7, got ready for work and waited for the phone to ring.....it didn't. September is not a good time for supply work because everyone is making a concerted effort not to be ill in the first few weeks of term. However, eventually people got ill and the phone did ring. There are two ways that bookings happen. Sometimes schools know that they'll need someone in advance so the agency books you in advance which is better because at least then I can plan my day around working. Sometimes I'll get a text message asking me to call about a particular booking. This gets sent out to lots of people so it pays to be quick with the call back. At other times they phone but I'm often in work and again they will have phoned others as well so you can miss out. The other way they book you is in the morning when schools phone round agencies after someone calls in sick. This is why I still get up early and get ready for work as they'll often be a last minute phone call. Your bookings are all recorded on your online diary. You log in through their website and can see bookings, timesheets and payslips. The agency also send a confirmation e-mail whenever you get a booking which tells you the school's address and contact name at the school. ADVANTAGES: Although supply work isn't what I really want to be doing there are some advantages to it. The first is that you generally don't have to worry about planning and marking (although you will have to mark if you are at a primary school and plan and mark if you have a longer term supply job). As a teacher this can take up a huge amount of time. When on a day's supply the work will generally have been set and you just have to tell the class what it is. Another good thing about supply work is that if you really don't like a school you can ask not to be sent there again. If you are employed permanently by a school you can't just leave after a day if you don't like it! You can technically walk out of a supply job at any time of the day but I never would as I'm pretty sure the agency would have doubts about using me in the future. You also get to see a wide variety of schools. I've really enjoyed seeing how different schools can be as it's helped me make decisions about where I want to end up teaching. In the past year I've taught in comprehensive schools, faith schools, special needs schools and primary schools. The money for supply teaching is pretty good as well. I haven't felt like I've gone without in comparison to when I was working full time in a school. The best thing for me about supply teaching is that you can take days off whenever you want. It is so nice to be able to take a long weekend or to take a holiday in term time when the prices are cheaper! It's one of the major annoyances of being a teacher that holidays are restricted to the most expensive times. I've taken full advantage of this as I figure this could be my last chance to take cheap holidays for the next 30 years!! The problem with this is that you don't get paid for those days and you're obviously spending money if you are on holiday so you can end up doubly poor! There is also the chance that supply may lead to something more permanent. Last year I managed to get a three day per week maternity cover position in the History department of a school through my agency. Although this meant planning and marking it was me properly teaching and not just covering, and that led to a higher daily rate which I was very happy about! It also meant that I have been able to keep up my teaching skills in my subject and have been able to get to know the students rather than just seeing them for one day. When schools need someone in a hurry to cover a long period (such as illness or maternity) they'll often use supply rather than advertise. Once a school knows you there's a much better chance of you getting any permanent job that may come up. DISADVANTAGES: Supply teaching isn't my ideal job, it does have many disadvantages. The main one for me is the behaviour of some of the children. Some of the schools I've worked in have been a little 'challenging'! As soon as pupils see that their regular teacher isn't there they think 'supply - great we can mess about'. I don't really blame them as I did the same when I was in school. The good thing is that permanent teachers know this. When I worked full time I never set anything vital for a supply lesson (unless it was an exam class) because I knew that half of them wouldn't make the effort needed to do the work if they were taken by a supply teacher. I haven't had any behaviour that's been too dreadful but you learn to be thick skinned when you teach! I'm sometimes happy if I manage to keep some of the classes inside the classroom! The constant behaviour issues can get you down a bit. It's not that I've had a pupil threaten me and I don't get sworn at too often but it's the constant refusal to do work and constant low level behaviour issues that grate on you. It does mean, however, that my classroom management skills have been honed and this can only be a good thing for my future career. Another big problem is that you don't get paid over the holidays at all. It's not such an issue over half term but over the summer holidays I did begin to struggle. Six weeks without money is a long time, especially as September is slow (I only got one day of work for the whole of September). I knew this was coming and made sure that I put money by when I was working but it's still a huge problem. Some people get other work over the summer but at the moment any work is hard to come by! Also, one of the advantages of teaching is the holidays, which makes me reluctant to give them up! Your weekly pay does supposedly include 'holiday pay' but this doesn't work like temping agencies' holiday pay which builds up and is claimable as a lump sum. Supply teaching holiday pay is included in your normal paycheque. Being in a different school every day means that you lose out on the friendships and working relationships with colleagues. I've been lucky, having three days a week in the same school last year but at other schools you find that you eat alone in the staffroom (sob...sob...!). I do miss that aspect of the job. It was nice to go to Christmas dos and take part in staff outings and these just aren't really available as a supply teacher. Some of the teachers in schools do go out of their way to make you feel welcome and no one is unfriendly, it's just that you're not in a place long enough to really get to know people. Supply teaching can also look bad on your CV (in my opinion). Last year I didn't have any interviews despite applying for quite a few jobs. I put this down partly to my CV not looking that great (one year in one school and then supply work). However, there are ways to make supply work look positive and this year Mr Tart helped me to restructure my application letter and I had two interviews within two days of each other! To talk up the supply work it's a good idea to reference the variety of behaviour management skills as well as the variety of subjects you've taught. ADVICE: If you're thinking of supply teaching or you're left no choice like me then the best advice I can give you is to not let it get to you. Let the bad days wash over you and think that at the end of the day you can go home with the extra money earned. Also make sure that you go with a good agency, I've heard some bad reports of other agencies but I've been really happy with Teaching Personnel. Make sure that you take advantage of being supply rather than a full time teacher, take the odd long weekend and take comfort in the thought of the others sitting in the staff room. Also make sure that you put a little by every week to tide you over the summer. CONCLUSION: I find supply teaching very much a mixed bag. There are aspects that really appeal to me like little planning and marking and not having to stay in a school that I dislike. The ability to have long weekends and cheaper holidays is great. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to do it long term. Supply teaching gets me down at times. The problem is that I'm a good teacher (one with a lot still to learn, but good all the same!). I worry that I'll become disillusioned and that supply long term will mean I loose some of my teaching skills. I've recently got a job back at the school that I worked in, in the first year. It's another maternity cover but I loved working there so much that I jumped at the opportunity. I was actually offered the job at the school I had one of the interviews at as well but I turned it down because it was part time. The interview did reassure me that it is possible to get a job (I was loosing faith after last year). I'm now really looking forward to having a proper job again, one where I can do planning and marking, get to know the pupils and get paid over the holidays!!
*** What did you do in 2009 that you have not done before*** I went surfing which I absolutely loved and am planning to do a lot more of in 2010. *** Did anyone close to you give birth? *** My best friend in the world gave birth to a little girl in March. We've known each other since we were 11 and she's the first of my friends to have a baby so the baby is being very spoiled! *** Did anyone close to you die? *** No one close to me, but I did attend a funeral for a cousin's husband. *** What countries did you visit? *** Canada - for skiing in January. USA - I went to visit my boyfriend while he was working over there for a couple of months and was happy with the excuse to revisit Boston and New York and see all the sights! France - once with a friend for a cultural girly trip to Paris and once to the Loire Valley with my boyfriend to look at lots (and lots) of castles! Italy - went to Rome in December - amazing! *** What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009? *** More money (sounds terrible but being a supply teacher means that I lack pay over the holidays). I love travelling and most of my available money goes on that but I'd prefer to be able to do it without worrying about paying bills at the same time! *** What dates will you remember from 2009? *** 7th March when my friend's beautiful little girl was born. *** Did you suffer illness or injury? *** A couple of colds, tonsillitis twice and the continuing migraines but nothing serious. *** What was the best thing you bought? *** Fitted wardrobes for my bedroom so after 3 years in my house I can finally hang everything up! *** Whose behaviour has merited celebration? *** Friends and family have been great. Mr Tart for putting up with me. *** Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? *** The government's (as usual) and various 'celebrities' who I just despise. *** Where did most of your money go? *** Any spare cash went into travelling, but I guess most of my money went towards bills (dull, dull, dull!). *** What did you get really excited about? *** The trips I went on, my friend's baby. *** What song(s) will you remember from 2009? *** I don't really have any that I associate particularly with 2009. I guess Cheryl Cole's Fight for this Love because it's on all the time and get's stuck in my head! *** Compared to this time last year are you . . . happier, fitter, or more productive? *** Happier, yes. Fitter, probably about the same but that's about to change as I'm going to take up walking and do the 3 peaks. More productive....well sometimes! *** What do you wish you had done more of? *** Travelling - I know I did a lot but I don't think you can have too much of a good thing! *** What do you wish you had done less of? *** Procrastinating, sitting in front of the TV! *** What was your favourite TV programme? *** Top Gear, Two and a Half Men, Dr Who, Gavin and Stacey. *** Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate last year? *** No, have managed to get through without too much hate this year! *** What's been the best book of 2009? *** Despite having a book on the go all the time I don't think I've read that many that came out this year. For Christmas my mum got me Terry Wogan's new one and I know that it won't be a literary masterpiece but I love him so I'm willing to bet that it'll be one of the best in 2009 for me! *** What was your greatest musical discovery? *** Carrie Underwood and Jason Michael Carroll - both American country singers. Underwood won American Idol a few years back and I love her. Mr Tart discovered Jason Michael Carroll while he was in the States and brought me back his CD which is amazing. *** What did you want to get in 2009? *** A job - which I did, sort of. I'm going back to the school I did my NQT in for this year - means being paid of the summer holidays for the first time since I qualified!! *** What did you want and didn't get? *** Nothing. *** What is your favourite film of the year? *** I really liked The Reader, which I thought Kate Winslet was amazing in. I also liked Harry Potter and the Hangover for lighter films. *** What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? *** I was 25. I stayed with my aunt, as Mum and Dad were away, and we went out with my best friend for lunch. Then in the evening I came back home to meet up with my boyfriend who'd been away and we went out for a lovely meal. *** What political issue stirred you the most? *** Being a teacher education policies affect me the most - the most annoying being the proposed license to teach which is a big pile of poo! The war in Afghanistan also gets to me. *** Who was the best person you met? *** I met some of Mr Tart's friends who like pub quizzes so now I have someone to go with! *** Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009? *** Patience will pay off.
Recently Mr Tart and I celebrated the first anniversary of our meeting. I was waiting with bated breath to see what might present he might have got me. He's been amazing at getting me just the right thing so far so I was feeling hopeful. He arrived at mine with some champagne, smoked salmon and a card in a fancy present bag. Good start I thought. I opened the card, nothing fell out but there was a note, saying 'you're probably wondering where your present is, well I'm taking you to Swindon to throw mud at you'. Hm, interesting! After further investigation I found out that he was taking us to a spa in Swindon for a joint treatment. Well done Mr Tart! LOCATION: The Retreat Spa is located in Unit 24, Hobley Drive, Swindon. Yes I did say 'unit' and yes it is actually located in an industrial estate. I was a little apprehensive when the sat nav directed us here, surely this was all wrong and I should be in the countryside, surrounded by trees? No, apparently this was correct. It's not very well signposted off the road but when you see the industrial estate turn into it and you should see it from there. It took us about 40 minutes to get there from Bath. THE EXPERIENCE: Mr Tart had seen the particular treatment that he's booked us in for on one of those red letter day packages. However, they were quite expensive on there so he looked to see if he could book through the spa themselves. So having got over the shock of the industrial estate we went into the spa. We had to fill out the forms that all these spas seem to have. My favourite question is always 'How do you feel?' followed by 'how do you want to feel when you leave' to which Mr Tart put 'good' and 'better', yes, well I never said I was with him for his imagination! Once through this we were shown to our respective changing rooms. The woman from the front desk showed me how to use the spa facilities (no, they don't involve a lot of instruction!). We were provided with a towel, slippers and towelling robe each. The robes were functional, but the towels were really fluffy and luxurious. The changing rooms were very clean. There were plenty of lockers, which you don't need any money for. There were two showers which also had shampoo, conditioner and body wash in, and a hair dryer for afterwards (an essential for my mop!). Mr Tart and I then made our way through to the main spa area. Unlike most spas this one doesn't have a pool. I was a little disappointed by this but there really wouldn't have been room for one in the space. There was a hot tub and a steam room. The hot tub was lovely, just the right temperature. There were lights on the side to show when it was charged (this is what I was told by the lady - maybe they just don't want you to have the bubbles on all the time!). The bubble mechanism took about 5 minutes to recharge which was a little frustrating but it was nice just to laze around in the warm water. The steam room was very hot (I know, I know, it's meant to be like that!). It was lovely, but I couldn't stay in there for longer than about 5 minutes. The steam room was really dark and there were little fairy type lights in the ceiling which changed colour. I loved the effect and found the room very relaxing. The main room with the hot tub had colour changing lights as well. The lighting changed subtly from red to green to blue etc. I really liked this effect as well. In this area there was also some seating. There were two loungers and two chairs. This wasn't really enough as there were two other people there who had already taken the loungers and the chairs weren't nearly so nice to sit on. There was also a table with a jug of cold water and glasses for you to help yourself. Above the table was a flat screen TV but it wasn't on and I'm not sure what it would be used for (although Mr Tart was desperate to find out if it could get Sky Sports for the cricket!). After an hour in the spa part we were taken off for our treatment. Mr Tart had booked a Rasul. I had absolutely no idea what this was. This is the description from the spa's website 'A rasul is a traditional arabian body treatment involving steam, aromas and mud. Slathered in mineral rich muds of various colours. You will be sat amongst heated walls and heated seating.'. We were taken into a room with a shower and connecting to the treatment room. The lady showed us a plate with three dishes on it. Each dish had a different coloured mud in it. She explained that one of the muds was for the face, another was for the body and the third was for areas of rough skin like elbows and feet. She explained that once she turned on the switch the room would start to heat and eventually fill with steam. The room has two seats at each end but there's enough room to sit on the same one (well it was our anniversary!). Although she did say that it might take a few minutes to start steaming, we were getting a bit worried when it took so long. It did start to steam eventually. Once the steam has been on for a couple of minutes you can rub the mud into your skin easily. The mud felt really nice and was also good for massaging (again it was our anniversary!!). It was all incredibly relaxing and I think it was one of the most sensual things you can do without the possibility of it ending in sex! The steam lasted for about 15 minutes and then the showers came on over our heads to wash the mud off. You could use the shower outside if the ones inside the actual rasul didn't wash all the mud off. Once we'd finished the treatment we were shown up to the lounge area where the lady offered us herbal tea or fruit juice. This area was upstairs and had a few loungers. It was surrounded by the treatment rooms and had relaxing music and lighting. The spa offers a lot of other treatments. There are facials, massages, mud treatments, hot stone treatments, manicures and pedicures and waxing. There are special male treatments available as well. I think some of the treatments are quite pricey. Our rasul cost £60 for both of us which I thought was quite pricey for the time we were in there. It was a lovely treatment but we agreed that it wasn't quite long enough. A pedicure is £40 which I think it very expensive. However, I looked at the prices for waxing and a brazilian costs £11 which I think is a real bargain as I usually pay £25 in Bath for this. An hour massage is £50 and a facial is £45. CONCLUSION: Despite being in a very random location I would highly recommend this spa. The staff were very friendly and helpful. The hot tub and steam room were lovely and relaxing. The treatment that we had was wonderful and I would certainly do it again. Even Mr Tart (who is not really the spa type) enjoyed it a lot (and didn't complain about missing too much of the cricket!). The prices for lots of the treatments seem reasonable to me - about average for spas. I think that our treatment could have lasted longer. If you're looking for a spa to go for the whole day then I don't think that this is the place as I would expect a pool and a restaurant for a day spa. However, for individual treatments and a bit of pampering this place is ideal and I would certainly go back.
It was our last night in Tours and we wanted to find somewhere really nice to eat that wouldn't break the bank. We walked through the old town but there were lots of places closed (it was Monday and the Continent does seem to come to a halt more on a Monday) and the rest didn't appeal. The owner of our hotel said that for good food all the locals went to Rue Colbert so we headed there to see if there was anything better. LOCATION: The restaurant is located at 121 Rue Colbert. It is towards the cathedral end of the road, away from the old town. We walked to the restaurant from our hotel which was on Avenue de Grammont and this took around 15 minutes. There are plenty of car parks around the area which are within a couple of minutes walk and they're free to park in after about 6pm. EXPERIENCE: We made our way up Rue Colbert looking for somewhere to eat. We had a look at L'Etable ad thought it looked pretty nice but there were only 2 people eating there and we're always slightly put off by empty restaurants. However, having walked up the rest of the street we returned to L'Etable and decided that it looked good enough to chance it. We sat outside, which I love doing - think it really adds to that French feel. The waiter clearly noticed our poor French and brought us some English menus which is always a slight relief - our French is limited and the French do seem to have a habit of putting ingredients in their dishes that wouldn't necessarily appeal to me. The menu was one where you could choose two or three courses for a set price. There were two set menus, one cheaper than the other. We went for the cheaper one but it was still excellent. We started by ordering our drinks; some water, a glass of white for Mr Tart and beer for me (yes, we're a strange couple!). Make sure you ask for a carafe of water if you want it for free, as if you say bottle they'll probably bring an expensive one. Our drinks came - they brought two glasses of wine by mistake - clearly our Allo Allo French was failing again! They took it back with no fuss though. Next came the starters. I'd ordered the goat's cheese salad. When it came there were some strange looking additions on the salad.....yes, they'd added goat! I was horrified, I'd never eaten goat and I wasn't particularly looking to try it. However, Mr Tart, good influence on me that he is, said I had to at least try it. I'm glad I did, it was absolutely delicious! To go with the goat, there was actually goat's cheese which was hot and wrapped in pastry, on a bed of lettuce and tomato. The whole starter was wonderful, goat is actually quite a tasty meat, but be warned if you're a veggie - there was no warning on the menu of its presence at all! Mr Tart had the daily special for his starter which was a big, single ravioli filled and baked. He said this was absolutely excellent as well. Then onto the main courses. I'd ordered the steak, which I tend to order a lot when I'm on holiday as I rarely have it at home. It came on a huge wooden platter. There was a plate with the steak in the middle, and three little pots around the side. One had veg in it, a mixture of green beans and peas, another had a cheese sauce and the third had potatoes cooked in cream and garlic. It was by far one of the best meals I'd had in a while. The steak was beautiful and very tasty. The veg was perfectly cooked, so that the beans were still slightly crunchy, the cheese sauce was not too cheesy but really went well with the other flavours and the potatoes were delicious. The only slight issue was that when they asked me how I wanted the steak to be cooked, I said medium rare, but it obviously got lost in translation as it came out almost blue. I wouldn't normally have eaten it but to be honest it was such a good steak that it didn't matter too much and I still enjoyed it. Just be aware that you may need to take a phrase book with you! Mr Tart again had the daily special. He knew that it was going to be some sort of fish but again the French wasn't flowing so it was a surprise when it came. It turned out to be salmon in pastry, with a really yummy sauce with prawns in. I didn't taste as I'm not a big fish person but he was really impressed with it. I was completely full up after my starter and main but Mr Tart's had been a bit lighter so he had room for a dessert. He went for the bavarois, which is a cream and custard pudding. Yet again he was hugely impressed. The service throughout the night was absolutely excellent. They were very attentive and didn't mind our bumbling French! I also thought that the prices were extremely good. My meal was Euro16 for two courses and Mr Tart's was Euro19 for three courses. The standard of the food was outstanding for a meal of that price. The menu had something for everyone, as long as you're not a vegetarian! There was fish, chicken and various meats. CONCLUSION: This restaurant really is excellent. I would highly recommend a visit there if you're ever in Tours. The food was some of the best I've had in a long time and Mr Tart was hugely impressed too. The prices were extremely reasonable and the service was great. The only thing to be aware of is the need to have a phrasebook and the fact that meat may appear on your plate! By the way - apparently Etable is the French for cowshed or barn (please correct me if I'm wrong) hence the title!
Another of the restaurants that we visited during our stay in Tours was Au Lapin qui Fume (yes, the rabbit that smokes!). The owner of our hotel recommended the street that the restaurant was on as the place where the locals went for a good meal. LOCATION: The restaurant is located at 90 Rue Colbert in Tours. It is away from the old town which is the main tourist area for restaurants. The restaurant is about halfway down the road so it is about halfway between the old town and the cathedral. We walked there from our hotel which was on Avenue de Grammont and it took us about 15 minutes. There are plenty of car parks within a couple of minutes walk of the restaurant and these are free to park in after 6.30. EXPERIENCE: The restaurant looked pretty busy when we walked past. Mr Tart and I like to go to places that look fairly popular so we checked out the menu. It looked really good so we headed in. There were a couple of tables outside but these were taken so we were seated inside. The restaurant is decorated in quite a traditional way (apart from the giant rabbit with the pipe on the wall.....I kid you not!). The waitress brought the wine list over to us, which had a wooden cover in the shape of a wine bottle which was a nice touch. The menus were on blackboards around the wall. I'm not sure if they had an English menu which you could look at but we managed with our phrasebook. Mr Tart ordered a small carafe of red wine and I ordered a carafe of water. It did take a little while for them to come and take our order but to be fair there were only two of them and they were dealing with a full restaurant. I ordered the carpaccio of beef. I'm not normally one for raw meat but this was really good. There were about six slices of beef which was served with parmesan and drizzled with oil. Mr Tart had the melon and Parma ham. I tried this as well and it was really good. For the main course Mr Tart ordered the rabbit stew. This was a rabbit (seemed like it might have been a whole one as there was a lot of it), stewed with vegetables, something that looked like couscous, lemon and olives. Mr Tart was really impressed and ate the lot. I had the lamb chops. There were three chops which was just about enough meat for me. The chops were really tasty but they were quite pink as seems to be the case in most French restaurants. The chops were served with sweet potato mash which was really yummy as well. We were both incredibly full when we'd finished those two courses so we decided not to have a dessert. They did have a good selection though. The restaurant menu wasn't hugely extensive but there was a choice for most people and nothing too extreme. However, there weren't any vegetarian options (again as seems to be the theme in France) so I wouldn't recommend for veggies! There was only one real problem with the restaurant and that was the heat. There was a ceiling fan but it was ineffective. There was also a stand fan which worked pretty well but it broke half way through the evening and it was uncomfortably hot after that. We were quite near the kitchen (although it is a tiny restaurant) so if you're near the front or outside it would be perfect. The meal cost us Euro40 including Mr Tart's wine and the tip which I thought was a bargain for two courses of a really good standard. CONCLUSION: I would definitely return to Au Lapin qui Fume. It had that really authentic French rustic feel. The service was a little slow at times but it was really friendly and the waitresses did their best to understand our limited French! The food was delicious and we were both really impressed. I thought that the price was really reasonable for the standard and quality of food. I would highly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in the area in search of some excellent French food.
On our recent trip to the Loire Valley Mr Tart and myself arrived in Tours quite late on our first night. We drove down to Tours from Paris. We were going to stop for something to eat on the way but in the end decided to make our way straight to Tours and get settled in the hotel and then find something close by. A couple of minutes from our hotel we came across this place and were really glad that we did. LOCATION: La Chope is located at 25 Avenue Grammont. Our hotel was on the same road so we just came across it. It is about a ten minute walk from Tours' old town. The restaurant doesn't stand out and the sign is not particularly bright so make sure you look out for it. THE EXPERIENCE: La Chope (which apparently translates as the tankard) is actually a fish restaurant. I'm not really a fish person (ok, that's an understatement, I can't stand most fish). However, we checked out the menu to see what other delights they might offer. They had a reasonable fixed price menu which looked pretty good so we went on in. The restaurant looks quite Parisian, with traditional French pictures on the walls and red velvet chairs. I really liked this French feel. It is quite a big place and I would say it would seat 100 easily. We ordered our drinks (wine for Mr Tart and water for me) which came fairly quickly. They also brought us bread which was really yummy but they didn't bring any butter or oil which I would have liked, but I think this is typically French. For the starter I had goats cheese with beetroot. It sounds a slightly strange combination but it was really delicious. The beetroot wasn't pickled in vinegar like it is so often over here so went really well with the goats cheese. Mr Tart had the artichoke which he raved about. For the main course I had steak. I often choose steak on a night out because I never have it at home. The steak was absolutely delicious again. It was really well cooked and a really tasty piece of meat. It came with a red wine jus, green beans and chips. It was exactly the type of food that I wanted after a long drive. Mr Tart had the fish. We're not sure what type of fish as it was the fish of the day and he didn't bother asking the name of it as we knew that we probably wouldn't be able to translate it anyway (he eats pretty much anything and likes being surprised). When the fish came it was white fish (although he's still not sure what it was!) but he said it was amazing. It was very simple and didn't come with much else (just some simple veg underneath). Mr Tart is used to really good food (his brother's an excellent chef) so for him to say it was amazing it must have been. The menu that we chose from seemed to be a kind of tourist menu as it was the only one that was translated into English (so take a phrase book), but obviously you can have anything from the other menus. I'm not sure how much we paid for our meal as I've lost the receipt but it was definitely less than Euro15 each, which I thought was really good value for the standard of food that we got. Make sure that you are aware before you order that the andouillette that the 'traditional sausage' is actually a tripe sausage (Mr Tart had it the next night somewhere, before we knew what it was, and he went a lovely colour of green while eating it!). Of course the main reason most people visit La Chope is for the seafood. Although I'm not a seafood person I have to say that the platters looked incredible. They weren't cheap from what I remember but they are stunning. They are served on what looks like a cake stand. They can include prawns, whelks and various types of oysters and it is all brought in fresh daily. If you're into seafood then this is definitely the place to come in Tours. If you're not into fish then they do offer some amazing sounding dishes on their al a carte menu. Starters include 'homemade terrine of duck foie gras with a fig chutney, on ginger bread, lambs lettuce dressed with a black truffle oil vinaigrette' and 'home smoked salmon on warm charlotte potatoes with a chive cream and harenga'. Mains include 'roasted suckling pig with morel mushrooms, broad beans and a sweet vouvray jus' and 'veal kidneys, mashed potatoes with mustard seeds, red mustard leaves and a 'Meaux Pommery' mustard sauce'. Desserts include crepe suzette and dark chocolate fondue. CONCLUSION: The restaurant is definitely one that I would revisit if I was in Tours again. We were both really impressed with the restaurant. The food was amazing and the service was great. Next time I would go for something off the al a carte menu but it was a little pricey for us that night and it was late so we just wanted something good value. I thought the prices for the fixed menu were really good for the standard of food that we got. Highly recommended!