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Hola – plans v reality…

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We knew there would be rain in Spain one day… Just not this much!

The planning for our trip to Andalucia started a while ago.

The initial thinking was to head over there in October 2016, but thoughts changed and we ended up visiting Herefordshire and Somerset.

The thinking started again back in November 2016 and a simple plan was drawn up – fly in and out of Malaga from either Leeds/Bradford or Manchester airports and take a look at the Picasso and other art connections in Malaga before heading to Seville, Cordoba and Granada and then head back to Malaga for the flight home.

This was expanded upon by getting hold of both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide paper guidebooks to Andalucia. Although I’d already taken a read through the LP and RG books on Spain, the area specific guides provided more insights to the cities we were intent on visiting and useful snippets regarding travelling times between cities by bus or train, eating out, flamenco and a few tips on speaking Spanish.

Flights and our hotel in Malaga were booked via Expedia whilst digs in Seville, Cordoba and Granada were booked via booking.com.

All of this happened back in November 2016, as did upgrades to the basic flights as we chose to pre-book seats on the plane in both directions and opt for priority boarding.

Yes, this put the price of the flights up, but we reckoned it was worth it as a means of getting settled in to our seats and as a means of ensuring that our hand luggage wasn’t stashed in the hold instead…

The decision to use buses rather than trains in Spain came down to two factors – cost and journey times (which in one or two cases quoted in the guidebooks were shorter on the bus rather than the train…).

Booking the buses was left until January and it has to be said that booking buses between Malaga and Seville, Seville and Cordoba along with Cordoba to Granada was pretty easy via the http://www.alsa.es website.

A problem did arise when it came to book the journey between Granada and Malaga. My UK bank card had been used for the first three transactions, but wasn’t being accepted for the one that would take us back to Malaga in readiness for the flight home.

Technology being what it is, a web chat was established with Alsa and it transpired that I should have used a Spanish bank card or PayPal for all of my ticket buying transactions!

As the first three sales had gone through without any difficulties and I had both printed off the online tickets and the ones sent to my email address, I decided to press on for the fourth transaction and book it via PayPal.

The problem being that I hadn’t used PayPal for years and couldn’t remember what my password was. That took a bit of time to resolve, but hey presto! That last set of tickets was bought, paid for and printed off…

With all of the flight, accommodation and almost all of the internal travel sorted out, there was a couple of things left to do – book tickets for our visit to The Alhambra in Granada and sort out transport to Manchester Airport.

Tickets were easily booked and paid for via The Alhambra’s website and that was almost it.

Next up was the booking of rail tickets and we almost came unstuck.

We were travelling on a weekend when there was planned maintenance on the railway line. Although the website showed this, it didn’t tell us the full nature of the replacement bus service operating on our day of travel.

After three attempts at finding out, it was time to jump in the car, head to a mainline station and ask questions. Once answered and the printouts handed over, the tickets were bought and paid for and that was it for two months.

When March came around, all we had to do was get some notes, check the mid-range weather forecast and go…

There was however one small problem left – neither of us speak Spanish!

Ten things… to take with you

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  1. Your camera – digital compact, DLSR, smartphone, tablet or even film!
  2. Travel towel – to dry self or roll laundry in when washing on the road…
  3. Wet wipes – to clean up after spare ribs, fixing a bike or on a hot day!
  4. Body spray – high temperatures and it’s sweaty when you’re in a crowd!
  5. Bottle of water – handy at any time (sparkling rather than still).
  6. Trousers with zipped pockets – to keep thieves at bay
  7. Bags that can be locked or have pull-tight openings – see number 6!
  8. Copies of passport, travel docs & insurance (and phone numbers).
  9. Comfortable shoes, sandals or boots suitable for what you’re up to
  10. Loose change – for purchases in shops that don’t want €20 notes…

Insurance…

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It was a long way down from this spot!

One thing that’s surprised me over the last few months is how many people are logging onto forums or asking questions on newspaper websites as to whether they should take travel insurance or not.

To me, it’s a no-brainer. Yes, you should is always my answer as I have pre-existing conditions that have to be declared in the wake of having had a stroke, but I’m also aware that the EHIC card doesn’t cover you for all eventualities or things like repatriation in the event of a biggie occurence.

Yes, specialist cover should be sought for dangerous sports etc, but even if you aren’t going paragliding or doing free-fall, there’s always the possibility that something unexpected might happen.

My stroke happened three days after a medical at a new GP practice and a few months after a nasty infection occurred following a small graze on my left leg (open leg wound for 3 months and an abcess inside open leg wound too).

There’s always the effects of liquor mortis to consider – either down to your consumption or a visiting meathead intent of drinking themselves into oblivion. Or inattentive drivers, unknown allergies or stumbles in the street…

Yes, the insurance premium will add more pounds or whatever to the cost of the trip, but it may be a lot less than the medical bills or those for repatriation to a hospital in say the UK after a crash or medical problem, especially if it’s happened on the other side of the world or in the US of A…

Treat ’em and street ’em may not be possible!

Holiday fever?

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UK or not UK? That is the question…

Plans and bookings have been made for 2017 and there are ideas in the melting pot for others in the UK and Europe.

Airlines, holiday companies and hotel chains are already sending me emails regarding their offers for next year whilst Expedia have just awarded me + Silver status on their rankings, something that goes alongside the Genius status awarded by Booking.com earlier this year.

[I will hasten to add at this point that I personally don’t regard myself as a genius in any way, shape or form – I know what my school results were and that my degree from University Of Sunderland is a Desmond (a 2:2).]

But I digress. I suspect that there will be a few more emails over the coming months giving me more details of what their promotions are.

Yes, I’ve unsubscribed from one accommodation provider’s email list as I was getting so many emails alerting me to deals going on in places I’ve already been to over the last twelve months and to deals in places that I’ve already booked for in early 2017.

I already know what Rohan’s sale items are though as a catalogue arrived via snail mail earlier in the week and this has been backed up by an email a few minutes ago.

Items of interest have been identified and that’s to my advantage as I decided not to take up the offer on a 20% off full price stock voucher for use in the Leeds store a couple of Saturdays ago.

Have the prices gone down? Yes, and by more than 20% – one will have a 30% reduction whist the other has a 50% reduction.

They’re both fleeces, but they will come in useful as a couple of existing fleeces have seen better days.

A couple of t-shirts have also caught my eye too as selected colours in the Element T and Merino Union 200 T ranges are also being given the 30% off treatment come Tuesday 27th…

The above will come in useful as Caroline and I head off to either European destinations or those here in the UK.

We haven’t been up to Scotland for a while now and whilst Caroline has been to both Northern Ireland and Isle of Man, I haven’t – yet!

I’ve not been up to the Borders for a while and it’s a few years since we spent time in the Lake District. Our North Norfolk hideaway has changed management recently, so a few days may be spent in one of the hostel’s en-suite rooms or on one of their campsite pitches.

A return visit to Suffolk could be on the cards, as could London or Brighton and Hastings. My last visit to Brighton was way back in the 1960s and whilst Caroline and King Harold have seen Hastings, I haven’t…

Anything else? Have a good holiday season, wherever you are in the world!

And that pic?* Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Let the games commence…

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You don’t always need Heathrow to get to places like this…

The decision has been made to allow a third runway at Heathrow Airport and there’s already conjecture that it might never happen if last night’s TV news reports are anything to go by.

I have flown out of Heathrow on several occasions, but if memory serves me right, the last couple of times were in 1999 and 2000. I was living in the North East at the time and access to Heathrow was usually by taking an overnight coach to the airport.

Fast forward sixteen years and I’m now living in Yorkshire so it’s easy to use either Leeds Bradford or Manchester to access international destinations by either direct flights from Leeds Bradford or Manchester or by flying via Schiphol or even via Heathrow.

Travel forums are already buzzing with comments as to what might happen, Boris Johnson has stated his thoughts on the matter and we’ve already had one MP resign his seat in the House Of Commons in protest at the decision and this is leading to a by-election.

Given that the legal niceties, planning and building processes are going to take year to implement, who knows how long it will be before the runway is actually up and running and whether it is the answer to the questions that have been asked over goodness knows how many years?

In which case I’ll stick to flying from and to airports closer to home here in the Northern Powerhouse!

No brainers…

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Sometimes you just have to roll the dice to see this…

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Or this…

One of the ‘joys’ of looking at travel forums on a regular basis is spotting the number of posters who have done their research using guidebooks, Google, Yahoo, Bing or even travelogues to plan, loosely plan or even not plan their break, holiday or journey.

There are some who want fellow forum users to suggest where they should go or even plan out their trip for them.

Others want so much validation for their plans that by the time they’ve made multiple posts on a similar theme that forum members either ignore them or become sarcastic after offering the same advice again and again and again.

Those who haven’t done their research are easy to spot because they’re so vague in their requests for places to go or for someone to do their planning for them that they can’t even be bothered to include basic information such as their budget, their time frame, their interests or passions or whether they have specific dietary needs or accommodation preferences.

And the usual answer to this lot?

Suggestions to buy at least one guidebook for where they’re going – my response is normally to get hold of both a Lonely Planet guidebook AND a Rough Guide book to whatever country or area they’re visiting or to point them in the direction of either the forum’s own search function or the search engines mentioned above.

There isn’t any excuse for such laziness when you’re heading off somewhere. It’s your trip and I take the view that it’s up to you to do due diligence and do your own research into where you’re going.

Do the research and you have a good idea about what to expect.

Don’t do the research or let others point you towards sights, places, areas or countries and there’s a fairly good probability that the brown stuff could hit the fan, leaving you to scream and scream and scream when in fact there’s only one person to blame…

You!

At the other end of the scale are those who plan everything to the nth degree and want so much validation that they become a pain in the butt…

Even when they’ve been told by several posters that the weather may not be in their favour, that their choice of clothing for walking is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, or that they should loosen up, relax and go with the flow rather than ticking off every box on their long list of things to see and do.

Then there’s the lot who want to see as much of an area, country or even Europe in a few days rather than taking time to immerse oneself in one area or just one country as a means of exploring what’s on offer.

To those posters, I’ll invoke memories of a popular 1980’s t-shirt slogan:

“Frankie says RELAX!”

Don’t do it…

Forward planning II…

Well, Forward Planning I got a few people going!

The spike in traffic yesterday was amazing after I’d posted a link to it in a forum posting…

So here’s Forward Planning II, which isn’t as contentious, but it should give some people food for thought.

Although there are those who do admirable amounts of research into prospective trips, there are those who over plan everything.

They try to cram in as much as possible into a short space of time and expect you to concur with their every move.

Sadly that isn’t always the case…

Putting a schedule together where there’s a whole host of destinations, things to see, things to do and places to eat at always seems a bit pointless.

I’ve seen itineraries posted that haven’t any rest days or have a list of things that’s going to require several days rushing around after downing fifteen double espressos or at least two boxes of caffeine tablets (neither are recommended by the way – one to two double espressos per day is enough for me and I’ve not knowingly taken caffeine tablets).

Yes, the posters aspire to doing everything on the list, but how many end up spoiling their collective experiences by going down that route? Virtually all of the best trips I/we have done have had a bit of planning about them, but not everything has been planned to the nth degree on these ventures.

Outward and return travel has been booked, airport car parking when needed plus first and last nights or the full trip’s accommodation and a bit of in-country travel on some occasions, but there’s always been some leeway to have days off, change plans or just drop stuff when the weather turns nastier than whatever was in the wood shed*

Mistakes can be made during the planning stages – we ended up in one Norwegian town for a couple of nights three years ago that we should have given a miss to, but we made the most of it.

We ended up walking to a nearby village, had a very good lunch, wandered around a fort and then spent time by the fjord listening to Roxette’s sound check in advance of their nearby open air show that evening.

Once back at our digs, we made a meal from the stuff we’d bought at the local supermarket and then whiled away the evening in a park by the same fjord – heading into the nearby pub for a couple of bevvies wasn’t an option as I’d already paid the equivalent of £8 for a beer that cost £1.68 at home earlier in the day!

Our last trip to Portugal had five main ports of call – the next one will have three-four depending on whether we decide explore the Douro valley or leave that for another visit. A rough outline has been made of where we want to go in Portugal, but apart from the flights and the first nights there, nothing else is going to be booked so we can have total flexibility.

Last year’s trip to Suffolk had just two base camps. One at the beginning of the week and another near the end. We’d sussed out which campsites to use in advance, but hadn’t booked them, even though it was high season.

The highlighter pen had been used in a paper copy of Lonely Planet’s Great Britain guide, but that was it as far as the other planning went. Decisions were made on the day as to where we were going to go and what we wanted to see and even these changed as there was a problem with the car and then rain clouds gathered and dumped their load on us , the car and the tent!

So, is indecision the key to flexibility? Could be!

Research can be done and notes made, but if you have some flexibility in your schedule, then there’s always room for days in magical places that you find en-route, brief encounters of different kinds or days off. Or to find ways and means of combatting unexpected strikes, any food induced quick-steps or bookings that have gone astray…

And besides, aren’t you supposed to be on holiday or travelling to escape from the stresses of commuting, work schedules, bosses who are pains in the neck (or other parts of the anatomy!) and everything else that goes with the 9-5.

Leave the carefully prepared holiday spreadsheet behind and enjoy the break (no I couldn’t believe that people planned their holidays on spreadsheets either until I read a few Kindle books recently!).

And remember, it’s your holiday or trip you’re on and you should do what you please and like…

Our next ones aren’t set in stone – we have some dates in mind and some destinations too, but as we’ve made tentative plans before and then dumped them at three days notice to jet off somewhere else, we’ll see what’s out there!

* Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons