Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Toyota Travelogue 2016 part 2

On 24 August we reached Castagnole Lanze, in Piedmont. We had the car checked and it was fine, great relief! Just water from the aircon, not oil or anything nasty, as mentioned in Part I. Castagnole Lanze is a small village, the nearest town are Asti and Alba, both medieval and worth a visit. They are famous for wine (Barolo, Asti spumante), good food (including the famous white truffle) and two different Palios in the autumn (horses in Asti, donkeys in Alba). Castagnole has two annual street celebrations: the Spring one dedicated to new wine and good food and the summer one with street concerts attracting major names in Italian music (folk and pop). We stay at my parent's house in the centre of the new part of the village but visit the old part which has an amazing Baroque church. However, the major attraction for Michela was my godmother's beautiful new cat, whose mum is a ginger moggy and the dad is unknown but certainly a pedigree one. You can see it in action below.

In Italy I saw all my school friends as we celebrated our Leva, a gathering that starts at 18 (last time I did it) then continues at 25, 30, 35, 40, etc.... We celebrated with this big champagne bottle with firework at a dancing and eating restaurant and on Sunday I got this cute posy before the special Mass given by our Professor of Religion in secondary school. The summer street celebrations also include a fairground and it's Michela's favourite time of year. I saw parts of the street concerts as we needed to keep an eye on Michela who tried all the rides... Soon we were back on the Mont Cenis, where we visited the beautiful church and the Alpine garden. There is also a museum.

Next stop was Annecy, a beautiful town with a lake, famous for the inventor of safety matches and the colour in fireworks. We went on a boat tour of the lake and Michela was asked if she wanted to pilot the boat, I had to say yes on her behalf as she was a bit shy about but then enjoyed it a lot judging by the mini pump fist when she told this to her dad, who is not keen on boats. 

We had dinner at Les Tables, which I have reviewed on TripAdvisor because it had a very nice kid menu and a very affordable Savoyard menu for adults. If you love cheese, I recommend it. The kid meal included ice cream served in a plastic cow, which Michela has kept to use as storage for rubbers.

Chambery was once Italian and capital of the Savoie, a small kingdom with a king (the King of Italy and his family were exiled after 1945 for their complicity with Fascism). There is great looking castle and it's a pity we did not go to see it as the admission charge is small.

On to Troyes, which is a great city if you like half-timbered buildings, narrow medieval streets and Champagne! Back in the Champagne region, where the food is excellent. We always go to the same restaurant as it has delicious food and menus in English (not a tourist trap, don't let the translated menus blind you). Troyes has a pretty good covered market, if you fancy buying your lunch or dinner.


Last stop is Calais, which has been in the news a lot because of the migrants' problem. Last year we did not venture in town but this year we did and it was back to normal. Two years ago we went and the shopping centre look terrible with many empty units, there were also many young male migrants roaming the streets and looking very unhappy, which is understandable but a bit frightening when you visit places with a young child. This year the bookshop had reopened and there were less empty units. The streets look more lively. Let's hope that this situation is resolved, UK charities have been set up to relieve the immigrants' plight with donations of food and items for families. Calais has an amazing townhall with a Rodin statue and wonderful gardens. This year the theme was Oriental gardens, hence the red sticks and the pagoda and small pond at the front. We had dinner at the modest hotel we stay at because the restaurant is so great.... This year we booked and got a table overlooking the beach walk, which is full of playgrounds, mostly free.

The last day it was a sunny day and as Michael and Michela enjoyed a lie-in I went to the beach and it was wonderful, so empty and natural... It was around 8am on a Sunday. Just me and a few birds, the sea had retracted a long way. Then two walkers appeared, too good a morning to miss out! We were back in England a few hours later.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Personality tests, why are they so fascinating? Introducing Personality Perfect

Take your test by clicking here

I was commissioned to write a review of a new PersonalityMatch app called Personality Perfect, launched in June 2016, which you can download for free here (App store for Apple) and here (Google Play for android). Like many, I always have a go at any personality quiz that I find on Facebook or other social media channels, I have even created some quizzes for fun. 

As with other apps, there is a free level and a premium zone but if you want to try before you buy, the free level gives you a good taster of what you pay for. The Personality Perfect app stays in touch with you and I have got a couple of follows-up after the test, which was fine as it reminded me of other things I could do. Sometimes apps do pester you to continue playing, but this one was lower key, I would have not minded an extra email after those, maybe two weeks down the line. I am saying this with my marketing hat on but also as a user. There are so many distractions online that a weekly or fortnightly reminder is not unwelcome. I also appreciated receiving articles about my profile, which focused on growing my confidence levels and on conversation skills.

I was surprised by the result as I don't see myself as a leader, but the character traits are spot on. So what does a premium account of PersonalityMatch offers? Instead of a summary, you get a 21 page in-depth profile, listing strengths and weaknesses, covering life and love, career choices (aka which jobs are suited to your personality) and... drumrolls... how to unlock your potential. So for instance, with my profile I'd discover how to grab those leadership skills and forge ahead!

I have saved the best bit for last, the point of difference... you do not have to do it on your own! Dutch entrepreneur Johan Hagenbeuk built in a social element which is easy as 1,2.3:
1. you take the free personality test
2. invite a friend to do the same
3. let the app match your results.

So if you feel you want to share this experience with friends, colleagues, family, you can!

There is a 14-Day Money-Back Guarantee and you can see samples of what you'd get if you click the link in your personalised email.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Toyota Travelogue 2016 - part 1

Our 'new' Toyota Yaris on Mont Cenis
Nearly every year now we travel by car to Italy from Cambridge through France. This time round I got teased by my Italian friends, asking me if I was going back in an inflatable! I replied I officially result as emigrated from Italy so they laughed even harder! This joke was passed on Twitter and liked, although I had to explain it was the Italians, not any Brit who cracked the joke. 

Back to the travelogue, if you want to read the previous ones, click here.... You will find most years, except last year when I was not in a good place due to tennis elbow and personal blues so I did not post it... I have the photos somewhere though. 

So this year we again repeated some stops as they are handy so my partner does not drive too many hours each day and we miss out on looking around where we stop. I mention the car brand not because I am sponsored (offers welcome though!) but because we did the journey with a 2003 Toyota until this year, when we got a more recent Toyota. Again we had a trouble-free journey, except that we had a scare on Mont Cenis when the car hit a stone and we saw liquid dripping underneath. We crawled down the mountain and arrived in Italy where we immediately drove to our trusted local mechanic Flavio who said it was just the condensed water from the air conditioning... phew... anyway if it were something else surely the alert lights would have flashed! Still it was tense as we did not want to end up stranded before reaching destination or in a dodgy predicament down a mountain....

1st stop: REIMS
This giant statue is in the cathedral... Every time we enter Reims, we shout 'Champagne' like Bubbles Devere, this portly Lady we all find very funny! Sadly no Champagne this time, to be honest I can only drink by the glass now as alcohol makes me fall asleep.

Here is the photo of a Champagne house and a view of the tram too. We were on our way to a public park, where I was lucky to find a free Jazz concert. Of course I sat alone while my partner and daughter visited some nearby shops. Of course there was armed police strolling by, as in other cities we visited, except Annecy, where I did not see any... I might have missed them though. We had a good dinner at Le Comptoir du Boeuf which offered Michela a huge slab of salmon (instead of usual burger/fish and chips option of most children's menus). Scroll down for the Jazz video... We also loved this fountain, which sadly did not spout Champagne, a missed opportunity, I say!

2nd stop: DOLE It is near Lyon, it was our first time there and to our delight we discovered it was the hometown of Pasteur, the vaccine inventor and also the inventor of the Pasteurisation process and a very effective treatment that prevents mould on vines. The wooden frame of his portrait was donated by grateful wine producers and it is made of vine wood. We also saw an interesting case with two mice with ears attached to their backs, apparently Pasteur dabbled in genetics too... Another great thing about Dole are the houses on the canal, the marina and the underground passages, including a hidden pool. No need of a map, all you have to do is follow the cat trail... So look down and follow the tiles with the cat.... Because of the motorway diversion away from Lyon, we missed the Mushroom Playpark so we broke the tradition of having a photo of Michela on huge mushroom slides. The best we could do is sit her on this chicken ride celebrating the expensive Poulet de Bresse, a 'bargain' at over 30 euros per uncooked chicken. It must the Champagne of chickens! Dole has also a fun way to collect ciggies' butts and find out popular opinions...

3rd stop: Chambery
It used to be Italy and the capital of Savoie at one point, but now a French city. We followed an elephant trail there and found this charming free library... and this funny pub chain...  The highlight aside the excellent ice cream, food and mountain views were the statue of elephants and Rousseau's house, which is out of town and worth a visit! I took a movie there and a photo of his bedroom with desk and all... Apparently he was a skilled musician and composer - he taught himself! After Chambery we climbed the Mont Cenis then crawled into Italy to my native region of Piedmont, once known as Savoie and a kingdom to boot!
Come back to this blog and you can read Part II with more pics and stories... On the way back the stops will be Annecy, Troyes and Calais!