Sunday, 21 December 2008

It's never simple is it?

A few days ago when Hilary and I were talking, we thought that it would be a good idea to contact the limousine company that is supposed to take us and our bags from Middle Chub Tor to Southampton for the start of our cruise. Our reasoning was that they might need directions to our little house which is located on the edge of a golf course and some distance from any main road. Over the dozen years that we have been here we have had quite a few delivery men, taxi drivers, even family members, get lost when trying to find us. After all the only indication that there are houses down along our track is a small marker stone with Chub Tor on it and that is situated about half a mile away, covered with weeds and tall grass.

We called the Travel Agent, listened to Greensleeves, and explained that we would like to call the Limousine company and please could we have their 'phone number - no problem they were only to keen to help. Dialled, ringing, listened to Greensleeves, (why does all 'phone hold music have to be Greensleeves?). Answered "Hallmark Cars, can I help you?" I explained what we would like to do and "certainly sir, what is your name, which cruise, when are you travelling?" to be followed by "sorry but we have no booking in that name for that date." Definitely not a good start.

Another call to the Travel Agent, more Greensleeves. "Did you receive our Travel Pack?" "Yes" "Weren't the details in there? "No" "That's odd they should have been, what's your 'phone number? I'll call you back in two minutes."

Two hours later, I call them, listen to Greensleeves, get through and "We're working on it. I said that we would call you back." "Yes but you said in two minutes and it is now two hours." "Don't worry I am here until 8.00pm I will call you back."

Another hour, it is now 6.30pm and "Hello Mr. Woollard, it is all sorted and Hallmark have your details but they have all gone home now, can you call them in the morning? "So who screwed up? You or Hallmark?" "It was just a data uploading problem Mr. Woollard, no need to worry." "So you forgot to tell them right?" "No, no, just a data uploading problem, as I said call them tomorrow, everything is fine."

So of course I did call them the next day and listened to Greensleeves before speaking to Lizzy at Hallmark who said, "A letter is on it's way to you confirming all your details, no problem, if you would like to email your directions we will give them to the driver. Sorry about the misunderstanding, your car is booked for 9.00am on January 8th is that OK?" So that was the first problem solved but a little worrying that if we hadn't decided to give them directions we could have been sitting at home waiting for a non-booked limo to arrive and probably listening to Greensleeves as we panicked. Now we only have to worry if it will take all our suitcases.

Being reasonably seasoned travellers we have on occasion noticed that our credit cards have been blocked after we have made overseas purchases while the card company has checked that our cards are not being used fraudulently. This is a good thing but very annoying at the time so it has been our practise to call the card companies, tell them our travel dates and locations and ask them to make sure that the card is honoured. So with phone and card numbers in hand I proceeded to call Nationwide, Cooperative Bank and Halifax and listen to Greensleeves three times. No problem, all were very understanding, envious of the reasons for needing access to our cards abroad for 3 months and I thought that it was all settled. Then Hilary casually said, "You do realise that our Halifax Debit Card expires in February don't you?" "Oh, shoot," or words to that effect was my reply.

Another call to Halifax, this time with Greensleeves at premium telephone rate, to ask them to extend the expiry date of our Debit Cards. "Sorry sir, we can't do that, your new ones will be issued 3 weeks before the old ones expire, you will be fine." "Er, no we won't, how are you going to get them to us when we are half way across the Atlantic Ocean? Can't you just re-issue the new ones early with an extended expiry date." "No we can't do that, even if we re-issue them because you have lost them for example they will still expire in mid-February 2009." Much muttering on my part about what I thought of modern banking that uses stupid computers before a suggestion was made. "But of course you can open a new account with us and we will send you new cards which will have a later expiry date." "I see, so I can open a new account, transfer all my existing funds into it, get new cards, close my old account, get new PIN numbers and have it all up and running before January 8th, even with Christmas approaching, but you can't simply extend the old ones for 2 months?" "Well yes sir, but you will need to go to a Halifax Bank to sign the paperwork tomorrow (Saturday) morning."

With this being the only option available to us I had to agree, only to be told "well let me pass you over to my colleague and he will talk you through the details." More Greensleeves hold music, followed by "How can I help you?" At this stage I should have put the 'phone down - after all I was paying for the call - but I foolishly persisted and then had to listen to a load of drivel about security as he read from a printed page how they would check our credit references, did we mind etc. etc. blah, blah, blah which went on for at least 20 minutes. You may be able to understand my frustration with this bank when you hear that we have been with them ever since we purchased our first house with a mortgage from them in 1966, if they don't know our credit history by now they never will. At the very end of this long diatribe we were given a 10.00am appointment for the next day which we did fulfil by catching the Park and Ride bus into Plymouth. Of course the boy doing the transaction was running 15 minutes late from a previous appointment - a very attractive young lady with a small baby, I noticed as did he - but we did get through the paperwork easily enough and I checked on line last night that we do indeed have a new account with £100 in it transferred from our existing account. But will the cards arrive on time? Will the PIN numbers to go with the cards arrive on time? Will we be able to change the PIN numbers to something that we can remember before we go? Will we destroy the existing PIN numbers by scratching the card too hard (the Halifax boy warned us about this, "I suggest that you use a 20p piece and not a 10p as the edges on those seem to scratch the numbers off as well." All these things will be revealed when and if the cards arrive before we leave.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mutiny on the Bounty?

I don't know how long this link will be available but it describes another pirate attack off Somalia and this time on a large cruise ship that has just travelled through the Suez Canal on its way from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Sounds familiar? Yes we will be doing this in reverse on our way back. The idea of a ship's mutiny to go via South Africa is definitely sounding more tempting every time we read a report like this.

Actually I think that the size of the Oriana and from what I have heard the anti terrorist measures that we have read about will deter any attack on us.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Oh My! Mumbai!

The TV news this week has not been very good has it? Especially if you have visits to Bangkok and Mumbai on your holiday travel list.

First was the closure of one of the Bangkok airports and today they closed the other one so their are no flights out for either national or international travellers - haven't seen any mention of them blockading the ports yet........

And then there are the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, so far over 100 dead and British and American passport holders being targeted. Naturally we are hoping that this is not going to be a long term disturbance and that by the time we get there next March all these troubles will be long forgotten about.

Next worry of course is the pirates around Somalia - we cruise past there on the way to the Suez Canal. Did we pick a bad time after all?

Are we downhearted? Of course not, we have great faith that we will be well protected and looked after and that this holiday will be a great success and that the next time we blog the clouds will have lifted and we will have positive news to report.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Growing Excitement

Two years ago a friend of Sam's - someone who lived down the road when he was a boy and contacted him via a mutual interest in Harwich where they were born - went on a pretty much identical cruise around the world. She and her friend who live not far from Bournemouth, boarded Oriana at Southampton and set sail across the Bay of Biscay. They had a fabulous time on their cruise and offered to help us out when they learned about our intended trip.

A long phone call gave us information on how to deal with cash in different countries, advised us about inoculations, some general safety tips, how to haggle with taxi drivers, which excursions are worthwhile and generally what to expect about life on board. Oh and how to avoid the queues for getting on and off the ship.

Today we received a big brown envelope containing details about the excursions they went on in Mumbai and Cochin - two places that Hilary is desperate to see - also included was one of the Oriana menus with mouth watering dishes and a day sheet for one of the days of their cruise. The menu clearly indicated several vegetarian and fish dishes so that is one problem we don't have to worry about, incidentally we have already spoken to P&O about soya milk for Hilary and they have confirmed that she will have plenty of supplies on board.

We were staggered to see the detail that is available every day for those on board - Watercolour painting lessons, Ballroom Dancing lessons, Bridge and Whist competitions and lessons, entertainment galore, talks on finance, history of the next destination, sporting competitions in fact so much that for sure we will not be bored. Quite the reverse, it will be hard to decide what not to do rather than which activity to do next. We thought that it would be a lot of lazing by the pool reading books, but I don't think we will have much time for that!

Sam's friend Margaret and her friend George apparently used to plan their activities the night before and then decide when and where they would have time to meet each other the following day. No moping around in deckchairs for them.... maybe that is what we will have to do.

As the boarding date gets ever closer we are getting more excited, a little concerned about the possble onset of sea-sickness in the early part of the journey, but we are growing ever more confident that this was a good decision to throw caution to the winds and go off on the trip of a lifetime. It may not be as adventurous as Jess going to China, or of Hayley, Emily and Beccy going to the Far East on little more than pocket money, but for two old fogeys who rarely venture into non-English speaking countries it is big step!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Itinerary

Just to get you into the flavour of this journey our first post will be to highlight our travel timetable.

January 8 2009 - a limousine from home to Southampton to board the P&O cruise liner Oriana, embarking at 2.00pm and setting sail at 5.00pm.

January 9-10 - at sea, across the Bay of Biscay and dreaming of calm seas all the way (please God!)

January 11 - First stop Madeira, just off the African Coast.

January 12-15 - at sea crossing the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean

January 16 - St Maarten, Leeward Islands

January 17 - St Lucia, Windward Islands

January 18-20 - at sea through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico

January 20-21 - through the Panama Canal

January 21-22 - at sea up the west coast of Mexico

January 23 - Acapulco, Mexico

January 24-26 - at sea up the west coast of the USA

January 27 - San Francisco, USA

January 28-31 - at sea, crossing the Pacific Ocean

February 1 - Honolulu, USA

February 2-5 - at sea, crossing the Pacific Ocean

February 6 - Pago Pago, American Samoa

February 7-8 - at sea

February 9 - Lautoka, Fiji

February 10/11 - at sea cross the International Date Line

February 12 - Tauranga, New Zealand

February 13 - Auckland, New Zealand

February 14-15 - at sea

February 16 - Sydney, Australia

February 17 - at sea

February 18 - Brisbane, Australia

February 19 - at sea

February 20 - Whitsunday Islands, Australia

February 21 - Yorkey's Knob, Cairns. Australia

February 22 - at sea

February 23 - Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

February 24-28 - at sea

March 1-3 - Hong Kong, China

March 4 - Nha Trang, Vietnam

March 5 - at sea

March 6 - Laem Chabang, Bangkok, Thailand

March 7 - at sea

March 8 - Kemaman, Malaysia

March 9 - Singapore, SE Asia

March 10 - Port Kelang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

March 11-13 - at sea in the Indian Ocean

March 14 - Cochin, India

March 15 - at sea

March 16 - Mumbai, India

March 17-21 - at sea

March 22 - Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

March 23 - Suez Canal/Port Said

March 24-25 - at sea in the Mediterranean

March 26 - Citavecchia, Italy

March 27 - at sea in the Mediterranean

March 28 - Barcelona, Spain

March 29-31 - at sea in the Bay of Biscay

April 1 - Southampton, limousine home to Yelverton.