Category Archives: travel

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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One of those Africa moments

Flew back through OR Tambo a few days ago. I left going through the departure gates with what I thought was ample time but it turned out everyone and their dog was trying to leave the country. (Or so it seemed.) Chaos in the queue as people rushed to get through before their planes departed.

I did wonder why some people left it til the last minute before trying to get through the gates. Some had genuine issues because SA does have the fun issue that you can’t book luggage and yourself directly through when you transit but have to check in and check out again for connecting flights if you touch on international space.

But there were people who just being plain crazy. And ironically, a lot of the crazies were British. Usually in Britain they are proud to queue. This is ACTUALLY a thing. They frown on people who jump the line and make tut tut noises and will often verbally abuse you if you try shove your way in. In Africa however, away from their homeland was another matter. There were a number of them getting really jumpy, shoving forward even though they had loads of time (I suppose we all need time to shop for giraffe curios) and getting really irate with the customs officials and the passengers around them. As if it was somehow our fault for getting in the line in front of them.

This one bolshy woman literally elbowed out in front of me. Then stood there berating the customs official about the queue and quizzing him how long it would take to get to the departure gate. I’m not too sure what she thought he was going to do if the answer turned out ‘it takes half an hour to walk there’. As it is he told her there was loads of time and she should get moving. But she stood there yelling at him for awhile anyways.

Which meant I couldn’t go get my passport cleared as she was now blocking MY way and making herself even later in spending this completely futile time screaming at someone.

She should have looked on the bright side. Security compared to England may have full body scans etc but is relatively fast moving as they don’t really like swabbing every fifth bag for explosives and drugs.

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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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All Change

I was standing on the platform last Friday, waiting for a train. The notice board tiresomely said ‘next train not in service’. Which seems to happen a lot on that line. It’s like at that junction point they remove a third of the trains from service because they think there is a lesser population stupid enough to go northwards to nowhere.

Which is sort of true except an INSANE number of people, including myself, want to go one stop north and we want to get out the barriers as soon as possible which is at the front of the train. So I shuffled to the head of the track and tried to position myself near where an entering door might ultimately stop. This was not helped by the fact that, as usual, what are usually young east European or Asian (see ‘Indian’ if you are South African) women – not to generalise of course – tend to quite aggressively calculate where the space is and then park DIRECTLY in front of it. So they bump backwards into you when a train stops and people have to get off to let them on. They stand as close to the edge as is possible without you pushing them onto the track and elbow outwards with their oversized tote bags to maximise surface area (of very skinny girl) in front of the doorway. There was one there on Friday.

The station master was getting quite fed up with staring across a cold platform at what were clearly, to him, mentally deficient people. ‘The train on Platform 2 is terminating here. Do NOT get on the train. It stops here. If you don’t want to listen to me, at least try observe and notice that when everyone gets off, you should not get on because the train won’t go anywhere.’ And when it pulled in, ‘To the people ON the train, get off the train. This train terminates here. Follow the other people who already got off.’

So the train departed and the top end of the platform crowded up with all the idiots like me trying to get on a carriage near the exit on the next stop, bunched up together like penguins in a polar gale keeping warm.

‘There are two minutes until the next train, I’d advise all of you squashed up at the top to move down the platform. You have a better chance of boarding if you move down the platform. The train after the next train is not in service and this next train will be full. You have a MUCH better chance of getting onto this next train if you move now. You have two minutes and you have legs, I’d advise you to use them and move down while there is still time… or you can just stay where you are and ignore me.’ (Obviously we were ignoring him.) In all fairness, he had guessed right, the next train WAS full and it WAS very hard for people to get on. I was just lucky to be hot on the heels of the crazy chick as I’d actually been on the platform before her and before most of the crowd of people.

Oddly enough I seemed to be the only person on the platform who was amused by the conductor’s sarcastic personality. The rest of them didn’t seem insulted either. They all seemed to be deaf to what he was saying. So maybe he was onto something when he questioned our general listening capability and/or understanding of English?

 

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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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Places starting with a D

I have a general rule. If you can pay to fly direct, generally fly direct. There will be a time when you are very young and very old where you have the luxury of time but no financial ooph. Then you fly via via via but otherwise, try go direct.

So I had to fund a holiday for two and I had to break the cardinal rule. I had to go via via via.

I refused to go via Charles de Gaulle because that airport is infamous at losing either me or my luggage or both. It is impossible to get round that squashed doughnut shape quickly enough to make connecting flights (or have your luggage moved onto them) if you are even slightly delayed from your start point.

So we went via Dubai. I generally avoid anywhere connecting that is firstly in a desert and secondly starts with a D (and thirdly but not exclusively usually hosted in a place where they cut your hands off for theft and women are lesser citizens). So for me that means I generally don’t go via Dubai, Doha, Dakar and Abu Dhabi (I know the D is in the wrong place) – or Accra for that matter (A apparently being the other letter to avoid.)

Airflight was fine. Good in fact. But I remembered why I don’t do via. You land in a timezone that is in the middle of the night EVERYWHERE, including the place you are in, which just adds to the jetlag.

Bits of the airport smell like curry for some inexplicable reason and you can’t tell if it’s due to other weary passengers or a food house. Despite ‘duty free’ and ‘tax free’, many things are not particularly cheap. And noone really needs to own a giant Toblerone. Or, for some very strange reason, plastic containers making up jumbo litres of flavoured water when diluted out and mixed up. Or dates. (not the fun other half kind, the fruit type) Or alcohol. Or luxury brands you couldn’t afford BEFORE you went on holiday – and which don’t become MORE affordable just because you are in an airport.

The edges of the building, near glass doors or escalators onto atriums, are very hot. Because outside even in the middle of the night it’s over 30 degrees Celsius. But don’t worry. The inside areas are very cold. So you wish you had stolen the airplane blanky, such is the airconditioning.

Over half the restaurants, aesthetics AND branding looking like they have escaped from a mall in London. With excessive tourist prices to boot. Due to the jet lag/time lag issue, these restaurants live in some twilight limbo and serve breakfast next to supper according to diners needs.

Staff all clearly never see sunlight, working these strange graveyard shifts, and mostly appear Filipino, Indian, the odd Caucasian, the so called ‘locals’ clearly have better things to do, like SLEEP.

I’ve heard if you actually exit the airport prices drop (temperatures no doubt rise unless you are in airconditioning.)

Whatever. Personally, so far, that is another step too far for me.

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Joys of public transport

The ‘great British summer’ has arrived. This means, having peaked at midsummer, it will gradually get dark early and early every evening from now onward. In the meanwhile, it’s been drippy wet and mediocre warm.

The strange thing is although temperatures are fairly moderate they are starting to soar on public transport as the heat gets in and it doesn’t get out. Also there are a lot more people on the trains. I thought they would all go on holiday but it seems they holiday in the Big Smoke. Moreover, the workers instead of riding bicycles or something into work seem wary of impeding rain and are all also on the train with me.

I miss my bicycle a lot but I really do stay too far now to use it daily.

Instead, the last two days into work, I seem to be seated next to Sick Boy. Bonus: I got a seat. Penalty: It’s next to patient zero. And it’s not hayfever when in addition to sniffling and nose blowing there are deep throaty coughs every now and then with a sort of wheezy sound in the background. It hasn’t been the same Sick Boy, but they were both young and twenty something ish so maybe they all hang out together in some uber cool underground bar somewhere passing germs around with other uber cool people.

The evening journey home last night was something else in a different way. I was on one of the flip up jump seats near the door. Three different girls with long hair all sat down next to me for only a few stops each. Everyone one of them had their very long hair loose. I kept thinking there was a bug crawling on my arm. Until I realised it was because their hair, which was sooo not part of my personal space, was brushing up against me and tickling me. They were then replaced by a girl with a bob. Who seemed normal enough until she kept trying to shuffle closer and closer to me til apparently our thighs were meant to align. She’d realise this and then sort of wiggle slightly back again.

Thing is, I double checked, I was quite clearly in my seat. And I couldn’t shuffle further down so she could have part of my seat because Candy Crush guy on the other side of me had his elbow partially in my airspace.

Poor girl. She didn’t look that big but I realised look at her again, she was the epitome of pear shaped childbearing. And I think a bit of her was coming off the seat on the other side and getting in the way of people by the door. Thing is, that’s not really my fault.

Anymore than if you are over six foot and have to sit in an economy seat next to me or crouch bent over on the train over me. Or have a really big penis and have to sit with your legs sprawled apart. Or really big boobs that mean you can’t cross your arms over but they use up my half of the armrest.

I realise that perhaps some of these problems are not your fault and I have a limited sympathy. But that is limited because I can’t reach the tops of supermarket shelves and tall people do not often help me. I don’t get extra baggage allowance even though I weigh less than half of the heaviest person on a plane as a rule. I have to take up the hem on almost everything I own, I can’t just buy stuff off the shelf and it fits.

And yes, I can give up some room to you, often I do. But then you take advantage and use up the ENTIRE armrest plus part of the air above my lap.

And actually, I pay the same amount as you do even if I don’t use up the same amount of space. That’s genetics for you. Maybe it sucks and it’s unfair. But it’s unfair for me too because there are cars I can’t drive and you can because I can’t adjust the seat enough to reach the pedals and see over the top. Life isn’t about being fair. And neither is public transport. It’s not the great leveller. If you could, you too would be in an aircon car all the way, wouldn’t you?

 

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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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Scales of Economy

Occasionally I morbidly contemplate what I would do if I was ever a war victim/refugee/migrant with just the clothes on my back. I am always amazed at the human spirit through the ages, where people who had everything or nothing adapt to having practically nothing or even less than what they had before. From extreme cases of many souls in one tiny room with no sanitation to stories of emigrants who worked two jobs at minimum wage to try give their children the education and upbringing they never had.

Even my parents’ generation understood sacrifice. Foregoing fancy holidays and fancy restaurants, they ate what was cheap and seasonal. They took a break on Sunday because the government legally stated work was not allowed. Even then, these ‘rest periods’ were occupied with fixing thing so you could make do with what you had rather than acquire new. With spending time with your children in simple pursuits near the home. When even a trip to the park or the airport to watch planes take off was exciting.

I look at my generation and the ones below me and I shake my head. Our dependence on convenience foods. On the assumption a holiday is ‘owed’ to us and not just a day off, but a proper flight in the air to a far flung destination. Eating out in a restaurant is the norm and oh, no, not fast food at a melamine table. Restaurants with proper cutlery and tablecloths.

The new guy at work has just driven this home, to the point where it’s not just me that has wondered how he does it.

Every day he buys lunch, saying he can ‘claim it back’ as a contractor. But given you only get part of the tax back, I always found this to be a pointless saving against just making lunch which costs less than the tax you would ‘reclaim’ and the bought lunch combined . He promptly went to Ikea and bought a load of furnishings and household goods. I know this because he landed up in a huge argument with them about delivery on the phone that I had to listen to for a week. And if you took delivery, you bought enough you couldn’t carry it home, even in a big blue bag.

He hasn’t yet opened up a local bank account or been paid via cash cheque although he has been in the country for a few weeks. Despite this and complaints that ‘everyone is travelling except me’, he’s been going out drinking and is off for the long weekend to the Fringe. (Granted accommodation is paid for there.) So all of these expenses come out an overseas bank account with added charges for forex transfer.

I can’t tell if I’m the idiot who tried to hit the ground running when I arrived from overseas and caught buses instead of trains and missed a whole series of holidays with friends as I needed to build a local bank balance first, thereby missing out on a whole series of life experiences or if he is for his carpe diem I could die tomorrow attitude.

And if the world was to explode, would he adapt or continue as he does or am I just being paranoid imagining it could?

Lo, the ant and the grasshopper.

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