Category Archives: Holidays

Ferry nice

Plus one insisted that he didn’t like planes and somehow forced upon me the idea that it would be better to travel by train and then ferry rather than fly to Europe. Personally although I part see his logic, I also think it is part demented because you are now limited to places the ferry goes to and from for holidays. And YES you can get all the way to Bilbao, Spain like this but it takes a bloody long time and my holiday time is over by then. And then you’d probably rather be on a proper cruise ship known for luxury rather than practicality like a ferry.

It was the most surreal experience getting the overnight ferry from England to France. The one other time I did it before I was part of a massive youth group and we all jumped excitedly from a coach to run around the ship for a few hours before sinking into an exhausted heap somewhere like a litter of puppies. I have no recollection of actually eating anything or doing anything particularly constructive on the boat or indeed that it took that long, which it must have.

This time around there was just the two of us as foot passengers on an overnight journey. We had a rudimentary little cabin with two bunk beds, pale pink duvets and a teeny bathroom pod with toilet and a shower with surprisingly hot water at strong force. It was exactly luxury but it wasn’t slumming it either.

A lot of people had chosen to skimp on the cabins (there are, to be fair, also more people than cabins) and had taken the ‘sleeper seats’ instead. You could see some were seasoned travellers at this. They came on board with cooler bags of supper, their own blankets and pillows, tracksuit bottoms and the determined look of people ready to camp it out in public. I’m pretty sure they also had a car to return all these belongings to having said that.

To be fair, the ‘sleeper seats’ have more – much more – room than economy cabin class in an airplane. But the seats still don’t recline all the way down and you still land up napping with the hope that noone nicks your bag while you are asleep. (This is probably just ME being paranoid as a South African thinking like that having said that.) I did think however it probably wasn’t too bad when, on the return journey, I could feel the boat moving and in the windowless cabin had to lie very very still or risk feeling very very ill because I am one of those fools prone to motion sickness and highly confined spaces with artificial air blown into them don’t really help.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the ferry. It had a proper sit down restaurant and a canteen fast food one and some random cafe up top plus a bar with horrendous live evening entertainment. Not to mention a whole duty free shop, two tiny cinemas in a basement somewhere and a games arcade for the kids. I’ve always thought of ferries as highly practical big boats like buses on water that just tote you from one side of the harbour to another, not something that had actual facilities on board.

Am I totally sold on this being the way to travel every time? I’m not so sure. But I think I could be biased by the slight sea sickness and the fact that it is really hard to see the world from a boat like that. If, indeed, you manage to get a window at all.

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Bit of paranoia

Time for me to renew my travel insurance. I tend to keep an annual multi trip policy that I let expire and then randomly renew before I think I’m going to step into international waters again for whatever reason.

I HATE going through this. A friend told me to just buy and stop overthinking as it probably won’t make a blind difference what I do, the policy holders will wriggle out irrespective of who they are if I try claim. Why is it we assume insurers are part of the rings to hell and out to screw us all over? Possibly because I have never once successfully managed an insurance claim for anything I’ve ever been insured for.

Nevertheless it doesn’t stop me on a paranoid mission to scour the comparison websites, the ‘unbiased’ reviews of people who have purchased policies I have an eye on and ultimately, the greatest penance of all, trying to work out how much of the small print has shot me dead in the water before I’ve even begun the doggy paddle.

I’m actually quite indifferent to baggage or money loss being insured. I figure that’s why you should probably not travel with anything too valuable and these claims are near impossible to prove anyways. WHO still has the receipts to all their electronic goods and valuable luggage items? (Even as I write this I can tell someone is putting up their hands proudly, looking at their neatly indexed and filed folder of expenses.)

I’m more concerned about a policy paying out for medical bills. Not ‘serious’ ones like an emergency tooth filling or a bout of food poisoning or a few stitches. But actual serious ones. Ones that require a stint in hospital and the sinking feeling (literally) you are too ill to deal with the bills of the hospital and travelling back to wherever ‘home’ is. And the repatriation of my body and maybe someone to accompany me, dead or alive. These claims are hard to test without actually claiming on them though.

In the meanwhile I searched for five star reviews. HOW is it possible an insurance policy with only three stars has over 95 activities covered? While one with five stars has only 31? (Which, incidentally, exclude all sorts of things like safaris, motorcycles and kayaking (even on water like glass, limiting you pretty much to walking.)

I’m telling you it’s all rigged.

But they know that I know that to travel without anything is really asking for it. Like jumping out a plane without anything strapped to your back. As opposed to jumping with a heavy pack that MIGHT be a parachute that MIGHT open before you impact on the earth. (And MIGHT even be covered in insurance!)

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Camping tents and things

  • A one (wo)man tent does not really sleep one man but a medium sized dog, the only thing that will be able to sit upright (maybe) inside it
  • A two (wo)man tent takes two people of average size and height plus two sleeping bags and a torch and a few scattered bits and bobs. Certainly not all the other things you might need for camping. Like changes of clothes, cooking stuff, toiletries, seats, cooler boxes
  • A three  (wo)man tent will leave a gap the size of an average person to put stuff in if there are two people present. This might or might not be enough for you

Truth is it really assumes you need a car at least for all the camping bit. It is possible you can do it with less. I saw a guy camping who was also biking on a bicycle. But this meant that he was wearing the exact same clothing the next day and everything he had folded down into precise and perfect tiny squares to fit into the saddle bags.

A lot of people these days though seem to enjoy very large tents. That have multiple ‘bedrooms’ and a million guy ropes and bizarre alien footprints on the land. Some of them are, I swear, bigger than the studio flat I rented at one point. In addition to these, they extend their realm on a campsite with windbreakers, fairy lights, artificial turf (no, really, I saw a tent that had fake grass ON the grass…) Of course, I assume these tents are designed for families and there are two people minimum with enough age and dexterity (but not too much age) in order to put these things up. It is not a one man job, especially if you arrive at a site when it’s raining or windy. I would imagine one person trying to set up alone would be a fairly Charlie Chaplain moment.

I’ve been trying to work out how those circus tent things work as a result. Not the real big tops. The ones some people seem to be able to buy just to go on holiday in. I imagine some poor sod holding the central pole to the bigtop inside while another idiot runs around in circles outside pegging down the guyropes. But given these things have to stand in high winds potentially, I don’t think the central ‘mast’ is pinned just by the ropes, it must be anchored in somehow so you have confidence the big pole doesn’t thunk onto your head in the night. I’m sure there is a simple solution but I am, by nature, not a friendly person and couldn’t think of a polite reason to ask someone who owned a tent like this to explain it to me.  (I missed my opportunity with a family who had one who’s little children walked past us with mom saying, ‘no don’t go in there, that’s not our tent.’ ‘But it’s so SMALL’ I heard the child reply, ‘how is it so small?’

Out of the mouths of babes half the size of me and I was meant to fit into that tent…sigh…

 

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Camping

Camping. Not glamping. Which is still camping. Which I don’t want to do because I like to think we have evolved beyond sleeping on the floor effectively in the outdoors. Vulnerable to rain, spiders and grizzly bears.

I’ve been down memory lane with a friend of mine about the merits of camping. For some reason he remembers it as a pleasant experience. Proof that time does indeed mist and befuddle the memory.

We began our journey with an overnight stay at a tomato farm, on the floor of their living room. This sounds civilised but the place was inexplicably full of flies. I’m not sure what state the tomatoes were in but the house was diabolical. They were clustered everywhere, landing in lazy flocks upon you if you didn’t stay in perpetual motion. We feared the food we ate there for as much as those flies crawled on us, they landed on every other surface in the room.

The real tent adventure only began the day after involving an army tent and camp beds. In all fairness, the tomato farm people were gracious and lent us their camping gear, seeing as we were camping with their kids who knew how to deal with roughing it in a way I did not. Their daughter had no fear of spiders or athletes foot in the communal toilet shower blocks. The old army tent was actually cooler and more spacious than many of the other more modern synthetic options on the campsite.

The thing is the second night it rained. And not a little drizzle but a proper South African thunderstorm. The ground turned to mud and slid under the tent and into the tent, dampness seeping up the mattress the tomato king’s son and his girlfriend were sleeping on. for army tent ground sheets are not bonded to  their walls. Not that it would have helped anyways. Peak season had merited we were on a slight incline and we might just have washed away as a few of the newer tents that were not pegged in by pros had done. Everything for the rest of the week was mildly damp.

The rest of the camp site was grumpy as a consequence I think, for everything from then onwards was sort of muggy and muddy while we were on site. While rave music was acceptable on a night one of the groups had wanted to relax, the one evening we stayed up past ten we were told off by the self same group for making a noise.

The funny thing is I don’t really remember much more of the trip.I remember vaguely it was frustrating having nowhere to sit ever as we didn’t have enough stools or chairs. And that there was a cabbage in the blue cooler box. But that’s about it.

I wouldn’t have said though as my  friend did, ‘good times man, good times.’

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Worlds apart

I flew from the south of the United Kingdom to the north of Italy this weekend. An hour and a half flight. Negligible. It takes longer to fly to Cape Town from Johannesburg. Admittedly, you often leave dry, warm Highveld weather for cold windy Capetonian gales but the differences between the areas weather wise is not immense.

It is astounding in Europe though how such a short flight can take you to a whole new world.

In this instance we climbed aboard a plane under grey skies threatening rain, sweaters on the ready. We climbed out to a hot muggy evening with a fat full moon glowing down at us.

We woke up for three days to blue skies of my childhood and a humidity that was not, making my hair stick to my neck while my face went shiny in the heat.

It’s a good reason to stay slim and sleek. You don’t notice extra kilograms when it is easy to wear more clothing to hide lumps and bumps. Moreover, you don’t feel the lumps rubbing against each other due to the clothing in the way.

In Milan however, you could feel your thighs sweatily squishing against each other, even as the back of your skirt seemed to get stuck to your bum. The locals loved it though. Deliciously permatanned, they made looking summery effortless. Moreover, they, like my friend with the slender legs, stepped out in the shortest of shorts with the abandonment and confidence of people who looked good and knew it (which is partly what made them look so good).

The mirror in our room was, however, I was convinced, skewed to make my legs look extra stumpy. Although I could see they just WERE visibly chunkier in real life next to my friend. My knee injury hurt when I walked with my cabin luggage on my back, thereby adding extra weight to it.

I am terrible at diets. But I think it’s worth considering losing a couple of kgs. Just to make movement easier. Its bad enough weightlifting as part of a ‘fitness programme’. No one wants to be lugging around extra weight that’s just made up of bits of them in the way!

And (postscript) we climbed onto the plane in blazing sunshine and heat. We climbed out under a miserable grey sky, shivering with cold. Welcome back to England…

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Stuck

My boss is currently trapped in Mozambique. They took a charter plane somewhere up north to discuss opening new business up there. Apparently the plane now has a problem. With the landing gear. You can come up but you might not like the journey down. Or you can head south in a car. For a VERY VERY long time.

I was reminded of a story, I’m not sure if it is true or urban legend, of how a certain airline belonging to a country very near South Africa was unable to fulfil a regular flight time on their schedule.

Apparently the airline had a very small fleet. Basically only one plane was operational at that point – not to put too fine a point on it. And the president had decided it was his African Air Force One for that week. No plane, no commercial airline.

I wonder if that is allowable.

I once flew to Florence on a ‘budget’ airline. On landing, many of the passengers clapped. Usually I believe applauding a safe landing is a bit passe 1960s when planes must have fallen out the sky more often and there was only a curtain separating the pilot from the passengers so he could hear them clap, instead of being sealed off by a security door against terrorists.

This time round I think I clapped with them. I can’t honestly say my life flashed before my eyes. But for a reasonably sized commercial plane, that was the bumpiest ride I had ever experienced. We roller coastered up and down and when we hit the runway it felt like it had a hunderd potholes in it.

Needless to say,  I have never flown THAT airline again.

Why chance it?

I’m not that lucky with planes. The last trip I did, one airline went on strike with the rest of it’s country. Another went into administration which I only discovered the day before the flight.

 

 

 

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Almost Christmas

Christmas is a funny time of the year. A season you tend to love or hate. A bit like Marmite I suppose. You tend to love it when you have lots of friends and family and places to go. When you rush from activity to activity drinking festively alcoholic drinks and stuffing your face with canapes. Or perhaps that is EXACTLY what you hate about it.

Or you hate it because it is so commercial. Or you have nowhere to go and you are that sad lonely person with one Christmas bauble hanging on your window like Mr Bean. Or maybe you just aren’t into Christmas, enforced upon you by what you believe to be an archaeic religion.

Personally I have mixed feelings about it.

I used to love Christmas. The waking up in the early morning to see what Santa had dropped off. Going to church in your new clothing before the full heat of a bright blue summers day hit you. The way Gauteng empties out and slows down – as far as it is able – as people flock like lemmings for the coast.

England I have never really adjusted to the fact that it is cold. Although in some ways perhaps it is more postcardy. The lights up on the high streets. The throngs of shoppers, who retail in a demented fashion I’ve only ever seen on red hanger sale days when I worked in a store. Mulled wine and warm mince pies. And turkey everywhere. In sandwiches. As meal options in all restaurants.

The thing is I have never spent Christmas in this country in the same place twice. I can count off each year by where I spent that Christmas.

This one will be no different.

There will be turkey and inexplicable English brussel sprouts.

I will keep you updated.

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