Kit review: Arpenaz 26 cool bag
Aug24

Kit review: Arpenaz 26 cool bag

Keeping the picnic cool I like nothing better than picnic on a hot summers day in France; along a river bank, beside a lake or the sea or enjoying a mountain vista. Generally speaking the south of France is hotter than the UK and it is more of a challenge to keep the picnic cool. Enter the Arpenaz 26, a cooler bag developed by Quechua for the French company Decathlon. I was recently sent one to test and review. When the package containing the Arpenaz 26 arrived I was more than a little sceptical. How could anything that small contain a picnic for a family let alone keep it cool for any appreciable length of time? OK, I knew from the information sent out that it was expandable so it would undoubtedly be bigger than it first appeared. However, cool boxes or bags are bulky due to the insulating materials and the Arpenaz 26 gave the appearance of not having enough bulk to do the job properly. Unpacking the Arpenaz 26 The first thing I noticed was the weight; or rather the lack of it. At less than 1kg it and no more than 30cm x 40cm x 12cm when deflated it could easily be stored without taking up too much space. This is especially advantageous if I stay, as I often do, in mobil homes or small apartments. An elasticated strap, fixed at one end so you don’t lose it, keeps the cooler compact. One of the innovations of the Arpenaz 26 is the self-inflating technology. The strap is removed before inflating and the air valves opened. There are two valves, one on the lid and one on the front of the cooler. I followed the instructions and left the cooler to inflate itself. It took almost four minutes to inflate, enough time to brew a coffee. However it was not quite fully inflated and, as suggested in the instructions, needed to be inflated manually. All it took was one long puff through the front valve. The valves are then closed and the cooler is ready for use. The science behind the Arpenaz 26 Now for the technical bit; non-techies can skip this bit. Apparently the material on the inside, the silver lining, is designed to keep the cold in. The material used on the outside deflects solar radiation and reduces the impact of heat. Between the two the Arpenaz 26 makes use of the wonderful insulating properties of air. Although the technologies used in the materials are advanced the principle of keeping cold in and heat out is simplicity itself and in various forms what most coolers use....

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Brittany Ferries Économie – Review
Jun05

Brittany Ferries Économie – Review

Brittany Ferries operate cruise ferries to France in the Western Channel. Each vessel in the fleet is a well appointed luxury ferry (read a review of one of their ships) with a full range of facilities and a choice of eateries. It was a surprise to learn that since my last crossing with them they have introduced a budget crossing known as Brittany Ferries Économie. Brittany Ferries use The Etretat on the Portsmouth-Havre crossing. So how “no frills” is the Économie service on the Etretat? Would I be travelling on a freighter with just a nod to fare paying passengers? I sailed on the Portsmouth to Le Havre route which operates Thursday to Sunday The crossing takes five and a half hours and departs Portsmouth at 12:00 midday. The return is an overnight crossing and takes a little longer. The same vessel is used on the Portsmouth-Santander route when not sailing to Le Havre. Check-in at Portsmouth was smooth with the usually friendly Brittany Ferries staff making me feel welcome before I had even boarded the ship. Almost immediately boarding commenced and I was surprised to be directed to an open deck as I have always travelled on the inside of ferries to France safe from the elements. This might be a bit of an issue in rough weather as salt water spray and vehicle bodywork do not mix well. Instead of the utilitarian decor I had expected the interior was all glass, chrome, faux wood and a marble style floor. It was a modern maritime theme with curved lines and wave patterns on many of the glass panels. Seating was mostly faux leather whether it was the chairs at tables, couches along the walls or the paid for lounge chairs. Although you get the same excellent service from the staff on board it is in the facilities available where the economy experience is most notable. There is a single self-service restaurant with a limited choice on the menu and only one bar. The Etretat ‘s duty free shop is small by any standard. Anymore than two people shopping and it is crowded. There is a small cinema and two lounges where for £5 you can use one of the reclining lounge seats. There is a seating area in front of the bar and another adjacent to the restaurant; both are basic table and chairs seating with couches along the walls. There is a small soft play area for children. The only way to get foreign currency on board is to use the ATM, which I discovered was experiencing a technical malfunction on the day I was crossing. Make...

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