Sunday 27th March 2016

Later today we will board the Fred Olsen ship ‘Balmoral’ for a cruise to Ireland.  It feels a bit strange as all 20+ of our previous cruises have been with P&O, so it’ll be a bit of a learning curve for us.

We travelled down yesterday after our visitors left.  Storm Katie tried to blow our car back towards Birmingham (travelling west along the M4 was interesting….) but we got here well before it got dark.

We very quickly unpacked, only to find that George had left his new deodorant at home, but fortunately he had an old one in his wash bag.  Then it was my turn: I’d forgotten my toothbrush.  Holiday Inn delivered a complimentary brush and paste pack to our room, so all good.  But it does leave us wondering what else we’ll discover has been left at home!

We woke this morning to see our ship docked about 300m from the hotel, and the remnants of the storm still blowing.  So we won’t be going for a walk anytime soon.

Anyhow, it’ll soon be time to check out and wait for our taxi.  We  could easily walk to the ship from here, but sadly our cases can’t, and taxi transfers are part of our hotel package so it’d be rude not to make use!

No idea when either of us will post again, but watch this space….

 

Good Friday, 25th March 2016

It’s been a busy few days.  We leave tomorrow for Southampton and a week’s cruise to Ireland, so a lot of time has been spent getting ready for that.  and the packing started yesterday!

In addition, our daughter and grandson will be arriving later today and stopping overnight, so the guest bedroom had to be got ready – and that’s the room we usually load with packing stuff!  Just need to ‘Oliver-proof’ the house now!

My right hand continues to improve, and I’ve stopped wearing the splint during the day.  Rubbing loads of E45 into the finger has made a load of difference and has really helped with getting it flexible again.  Still one or two bits of stitches to come away though; it feels like I have a thorn or two in there.  But overall, it’s looking good.

Anyhow, better stop for now and sort out the house and prepare the greenhouse for a few days of being ignored.

Microsoft Windows Problems

Sorry, but we have been out of service for three days because my ‘Microsoft windows’ system had an issue and my laptop refused to work. After much searching for a solution via my tablet I eventually went down the ultimate road of resetting ‘windows’.

Sounds easy, but it took most of the first day capturing all my data onto a back-up drive. Then it was time to actually reset the operating system and that took just a couple of hours…quite surprising.

Getting everything back onto the laptop commenced with ‘my documents’ but I couldn’t open them as ‘Office’ needed reloading.

This was the most frustrating and time consuming bit of the exercise. We unfortunately live in an area where broadband strolls down the copper wires to us like an arthritic ‘Wordsworth’. It took about five hours to download ‘Office’. That was the end of day two off line.

Day three commenced with ‘Office’ installation, and that was again surprisingly smooth. The rest of the day involved reloading the rest of my data as well as recovering emails and favourite sites on the internet. Several have gone walkabouts but hopefully they are the least important ones.

Anyway it is back to workable normality, although not quite as it was as yet. I even had to reload the website pictures ….they vanished during the laptop holiday.

Right, so we are back again and thanks to the hundreds of visits over the last week. It looks like a few people took a look around the site beyond the blog pages as I have had a small increase in book sales…thanks again.

We are off on a week’s break this weekend and if I find a free wireless spot somewhere, I might try to upload a report or two. To be honest the priority is to have a break, and although I will be capturing details for new blog entries as we go, I possibly won’t be worrying too much about publishing them until we get back.

Bi for now

Sunday 20th March 2016 – happy birthday to our son!

After five days of physio, I can easily bend and straighten my right hand.  What I can’t do yet is make a full fist, but I’m hoping that will gradually come back once the incision site is fully healed.  At the moment there is one little patch that’s still not dried up, and until that happens I can’t get the finger wet, nor can I start massaging E45 cream into it to soften the scar tissue.

But onwards and upwards – I’m very much a glass half-full type!

In the meantime, I’ve started uploading some of my (frankly pretty pathetic) watercolour efforts onto here, so if anyone fancies a laugh click on the ‘Deb’s Pictures’ link at the top of the page.  Just a few so far, but I’ll put more on over the next few days.

Almost time to go cruising again

It is a Sunday morning on a chilly March morning. More importantly it is just a week to go before we will be gathering up our cases in a Southampton hotel before a short taxi ride to the cruise terminal.

Easter Sunday sees us trying out a cruise for the first time on a ship other than those of the P&O fleet. We are having a week on-board Fred Olsen’s Balmoral as she takes a trip to Ireland. We will have a day in Belfast, then two days in Dublin before our final stop in Cobh giving us access to Cork.

Last spring we had a coach trip to Southern Ireland and had a wonderful break with such friendly people who made our stay in their country so delightful. Deb and I said we had to go back, but had no idea it would be so soon, and certainly never thought it would involve a cruise.

Anyway after nearly 17 years it is time we tried out another cruise company. It is the moment to decide if P&O is still the right thing for us, or if Fred Olsen opens our eyes to an enjoyable alternative. Certainly Balmoral is a smaller ship but I am sure that won’t upset us as our experiences of the much larger Ventura put us off giant ships for ever.

I read a Facebook post this morning from a woman who has just returned from her first ever cruise. She hated it. In fact she hated every minute of it. You see cruising is a marmite experience and you either love it or hate it. It is not for everyone, and the same principle applies to the size of the ship you sail on. It seems most of the latest passengers who have discovered cruising absolutely love the 24 hour party atmosphere on the gigantic floating hotels. But Deb and I come from the previous generation who found cruising s enjoyable, and in particular the more traditional gentle pleasures of the medium size ships like Aurora, Oriana and Arcadia.

So Balmoral will be an experience as we drop down several thousands of tonnage and little over half the passenger numbers that we have been used to. I am sure it will be different and there will be things that are perfect for us, but maybe a few things that make us uncomfortable. I think the worst fear we have is the unknown of a different company, and not knowing what to expect.

It doesn’t matter too much if it proves a failure. We need a break from a cold and windy winter in Britain that we never expected. We should have been two thirds of the way through a world cruise now, but instead we have both had minor surgery repair our aging bits and pieces. Oh, and we only have another three weeks to wait after our return before we have a cruise on Aurora. She will be taking us out across the Mediterranean to revisit Venice and Dubrovnik that are a couple of our favourite destinations in Europe.

Yes this really is a wonderful life

Planning a World Cruise – Part 5 – Visas

Getting your Visas

For British travellers cruising around Europe, your passport often stays in the safe, except for a small number of countries. It comes back home in the same state as you left with no additional entries.

On a world cruise things are different.

Firstly the passport has to be handed over to reception when you board, and gets passed back to you when you arrive at a country that wants you to present it.

You will also have to organise visas for some countries before the cruise begins. These might involve sending the passports off to the visa service centres for each different country. The passport will then have an official stamp for each of these countries. Other places are less strict and require an electronic application which automatically adds the relevant visa to your passport. Alternatively you apply online and receive a form that should be kept with your passport when you get to that country.

Also while on your cruise, the ship’s crew will add further visas for other countries as you arrive at them.

I have spent quite a time researching the subject of visas. We will need them for our cruise in 2017 and I want to know which ones I have to organise, how much time I need to allow to get them to and from the various governmental organisations, and how much they will cost.

Now, our cruise on Aurora is visiting a lot of countries, so that is where I have a fair bit of information to pass on to you. Sadly we will not be going to Africa or South America so sorry but you will need to check the requirements for these countries yourself.

There is a serious warning here.

Things can change at a moment’s notice when it comes to visas. So my information is only as correct and accurate as is available at this moment – March 2016.

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I will start with a couple of easy countries.

Australia

When your cruise includes a stop in Australia, you need a simple form of visa, known as an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). Fortunately the British have a friendly relationship with Australia and you can apply for a simple ‘eVisitor’ visa (subclass 651) online.

The good news is this style of visa is free.

I did this for our 2012 world cruise, and it was simple.

For those who are not one of the lucky countries, your version of the ETA (class 601) will cost you 20 Australian dollars.

 

USA

Once again this is a simple exercise.

From UK simply go to www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/usa/entry-requirements and fill out the necessary section to get an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation or ESTA.

There are some restrictions for those with multiple nationalities, and the passport has to be of the modern type (e-passport with chips)

The current cost (March 2016) was $14.

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Now we move to the less simple countries

India

OK this time a true visa is required that is permanently fixed into your passport.

Warning:
Although it sounds a very good idea, the e Tourist Visa (eTV) is not acceptable for cruise passengers. The eTV is an online application for a simple visa at less than half the cost of the conventional tourist visa. Unfortunately it is only allowed for arrival at main Indian airports.

So let’s turn our attention to the standard tourist visa process for India.

You could use an agent to do some of this, but I completed it satisfactorily for our cruise in 2012 and I know many others who have similarly saved themselves a lot of money in agent fees.

  1. Go to the Indian High Commission website for visa applications hcilondon.in
  2. Click on the Visa Information link where it will outline the process and show the different visa option. For cruise passengers it is the Tourist Visa at £100 (each person) for a year or £300 if you are hoping for multiple world cruises or visits to the country.
    There is also a consular surcharge of £2 each as well.
    Things to be aware of are the need for a passport with at least 180 days left with enough empty pages for all the expected visas needed for your cruise.
    You also need photographs which are not the standard passport size.
  3. Once satisfied with the instructions and notes, click on the link to the online visa application form site. indianvisaonline.gov.in/
  4. You are going for the Regular Visa Application option so scroll down to the link labelled ‘Apply online’
  5. That opens up the form that needs to be completed.
    Complete the form carefully.
    I partially completed a form to the point where a photo was needed. Be aware it asks for a referral from someone in India. I believe the last time I did this it was someone in the P&O port agent’s office in Mumbai, so this needs to be checked.
  6. Once completed it has to be sent off to the address shown along with your passport(s) and money.

Warning:
Be careful to send passports securely. You don’t want to lose them in the postal system, especially if your application is late.

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Our cruise is not stopping at any Chinese ports but I have looked into the needs for here as I know there are a lot of concerns for visiting China.

China (mainland)

A reminder again – with entry requirements for any country, conditions are subject to change at a moment’s notice, so the following is what I perceive to be true, based on the rules as they stand at this moment.

Important Note

You will need a single or double entry visa for China if the ship is due to dock in the country. Even if you have no intention of leaving the ship, you will still need this visa.

On the Chinese Embassy website (www.chinese-embassy.org.uk/eng/)  select the link labelled ‘Visas to China’ for some basic information. Under the ‘Guidelines for Visa Applications’ you can select a section a titled ‘Part One: A Brief Introduction to Chinese Visas(2013-12-01)’.

In that section you will find a mass of different types of visa and the relevant one for you is:

L visa- Issued to those who intend to go to China as a tourist

Go back to the Guidelines for Visa Applications page and select the next section titled ‘Part Two: How to make a visa application 2013/08/31’.

  • You will need to have a passport with at least six months left on it at the end of your visit.
  • You have to complete the visa form and include recent passport size photos.
  • You also need to have copies of any previous passports when visas for China have been given.
  • Finally you need to have a supporting letter as follows:
    • Documents showing the itinerary including air ticket booking record (round trip) and proof of a hotel reservation, etc. (for cruise passengers this information must come from the cruise company), or an invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China.
    • Information on the applicant (full name, gender, date of birth, etc.)
    • Information on the planned visit (arrival and departure dates, place(s) to be visited, etc.)
    • Information on the inviting entity or individual (name, contact telephone number, address, official stamp, signature of the legal representative or the inviting individual)

The basic cost (for each person) of a visa is £85 for British citizens. On top of that there is a Service Fee for the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre of between £66 and £90 dependent on how quickly you need it.

Back at the ‘Guidelines for Visa Applications’ page there is then a link to get started.

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Other countries requiring visas

Many of the countries you visit require visas but they can be sorted out while you are sailing between ports. On a world cruise the passports are handed over at the beginning of the cruise and several visas are added for the various countries. They may well cost you money, but the charges are funnelled through your on-board account.

It seems quite painless until the end of sector account has a few more charges added to it.

Here is a list of countries where visas magically appeared in our passports during the 2012 cruise:

Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Vietnam, Egypt, and Indonesia

There weren’t many clear pages left in my passport after that.

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The Easy Way

You might decide that getting visas could be tricky and decide to use one of the many agencies that appear on the Internet search engine when you type in the world ‘visa’. This will certainly be an easy option but be aware – they charge a lot of money for their services.

As an example, applying for an Indian visa direct will cost you about £100 each, while an agent could add £50 (or more) on top. This is similar to the mark-up for a Chinese visa, so your holiday is getting more and more expensive.

Assuming you reasonably happy completing online forms, then simply go to the official site for each country rather than clicking on the third party agents.

If on the other hand you really are concerned, then your cruise company will recommend their own preferred agency who can sort everything for you. As the cruise gets nearer, download a visa pack from the cruise company and then tick the boxes for the ones you need. Send off the form, your passports, and the money to the company. A couple of weeks later everything will have been done and your passports return ready to go.

Tuesday 15th March 2016 – now the physio starts

We had a drive over to Ludlow yesterday.  Collected Mum from her care home, and came back to a local garden centre where we had lunch.  Just fish and chips, but it was fine.  We had Mum’s wheelchair with us, so after we’d eaten we wheeled her around the garden centre, browsing and admiring some of the items for sale, and stocking up on a couple of items we need at home.

Mum was on (relatively) good form, but was clearly getting tired, so we drove her back to Ludlow before returning home ourselves.  It had been a nice few hours, helped by having lovely sunny weather all day.

Then first thing this morning I returned to hospital to see an occupational therapist.  The wound to my hand hasn’t quite healed fully yet, which means I still can’t get it wet, but otherwise it’s looking good.  I now have a thermo-plastic splint which isolates my little finger and means I have more useful movement in the hand, which is good.  I have to remove the splint every couple of hours or so and do some flexibility exercises: they’re very simple, so not a problem at all.

I’ve also been told that I MUST fully use the hand for “light activities”, so I’m off now to repot a houseplant!

What has happened to BT?

I was employed by BT for all my life. I was proud of my company and earned a good living, before retiring with a good pension. It was once a wonderful company but I just cannot understand what it happening now.

The last 20 years of my career I was a part of the engineering training division and the last five or six years was all about training the engineers of Openreach who look after the country’s network.

Now, if you have telephone and broadband service with BT, you pay for it to a part of BT called BT Retail. BT Retail are the customer facing part of the company and purchase the copper wires and fibre optic connections from Openreach. When a fault occurs, you contact BT Retail to report your problem and they in turn contact Openreach to initiate a job to locate and repair the fault.

The nitty gritty is that if the fault is found to be in your personal equipment, or in the wiring within your house, Openreach fix the fault and charge you for their time and materials used. If the fault is in the Openreach network, and hence nothing to do with you, they obviously cannot charge you when they fix it.

Now for the tricky and annoying bit.

When Openreach are given a job to repair a BT Retail fault, they first check the line. If no fault is found they will sign the job off as complete because (in their view) there is nothing wrong. Your phone or broadband may still be faulty but you cannot speak to Openreach to point out that there is still something wrong. You have to speak to BT Retail. They will re-issue the job to Openreach, who will check again, and may or may not repair it.

Sometimes this can be frustrating, annoying, and downright ridiculous.

Take my brother who has lived in the same place and has had telephone service from BT for over 40 years. Unfortunately a few years ago he started to get a few problems and his telephone line needed repair. He lives on a smallholding at the end of a typical Cornish lane The telephone wires come to him on a mixture of overhead cables and underground sections.

Unfortunately Openreach were not making any money when attempting to fix my brother’s problem and continually made temporary repairs to simply get the service working. These temporary repairs eventually had to be repaired over and over again. There is actually a length of cable that has been run along a hedge with no protection, and joints lying in pits in the ground, again with no protection from water.

As beautiful as Cornwall is, there is a lot of rain. When it rains my brother’s phone, and his already slow broadband, tends to fail. Let’s just say that his telephone has actually been faulty for almost as long as it has been working in the last two years.

Openreach have been given the job to repair it each time and someone comes out (eventually) and makes the line work again. But it is never properly repaired and when it rains again, the phone fails again. In the meantime Openreach have signed the job off as fixed to BT Retail. A few days later they get another report of a fault and not realising (or bothered) if it is the same line, they simply initiate a new job.

This week an engineer arrived once again several hours later than the appointment. He said he didn’t have time to make a repair. He also said that my brother shouldn’t really expect to have a telephone line anyway as he lives so far away from the exchange.

Remember there has been over 40 years of service at this same place and with active broadband, if a little slow. A simple fact is that if broadband service is possible (even slowly), then the telephone should be OK.

This engineer was, in my mind, very negative, technically wrong, and rude to my brother.

The outcome was that he did make a fix to the line, and the telephone worked again. Hence the job was signed off with BT Retail.

It has been dry for almost a week so the probability is that the line would be working again without the engineer doing anything. We know it is not properly repaired, as the broadband is even slower than it has been.

Even more annoying is that Openreach have admitted that the line needs a REAL repair and had promised this would have been completed about a fortnight ago. Obviously someone decided that my brother wouldn’t notice if they changed their minds.

I am ashamed of the company I gave my working life to. They are treating the minority like something on the bottom of a Wellington boot.

All Openreach is really interest in is charging BT retail customers for faults in their house that can be fixed quickly. Anything slightly more complicated (or with no charge possible) is being delayed, or ‘bodged’ to avoid spending real time making the network operate correctly.

My brother has been regularly reporting the faults, and having engineer visits for several years. In the long run, this is costing Openreach more money than it would have been if they had completed the job properly the first time.

But we still can’t complain directly to Openreach.

If you have similar issues feel free to air them.

Saturday 12th March 2016

We’ve spent a few hours in Weston-super-Mare today.  It’s where our daughter Lynsey lives, with her husband James and their two-year-old son Oliver.  We didn’t see our son-in-law at all today, as he was sleeping off a night shift,  but we’re used to that – he works weird hours.

Oliver was watching through the front window as we arrived, and it was really sweet to see his face light up as he spotted us walking up to their path.  And as soon as the front door was opened he run straight up to George, ams lifted for a cuddle.  What a welcome!

But we had a lovely time with our beautiful daughter and our precious grandson.  We went to a local Harvester place for lunch: our treat, for Lynsey’s birthday earlier this week.  The food was nothing special, but the whole meal was made pretty entertaining by Oliver making his salad preferences very plain!  No to the black olives, but a huge yes to the red pepper slices!  He’s also recently discovered pockets, and made sure he had a stash of peppers squirrelled away for later.

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But he was very well behaved while we ate, and so on the way home we stopped off at the local park so he could play on the swings and climbing frames.

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The weather today has been lovely all day, so fingers crossed that spring is on its way at last.

We got back home by late afternoon, both of us pretty tired.  And now there’s a bottle of something cold and white calling to us from the fridge.  Hic…..

Friday 11th March 2016

Well my hand seems to be progressing uneventfully, although I get the odd tingling pain which I guess are the stitches beginning to dissolve and lose their grip.

I’m managing most things around the house now, many of them with a bin liner wrapped around the whole hand to keep it clean and dry.  So far the only thing that’s beaten me is peeling potatoes – but I have George for that!

But I am getting frustrated that I can’t wash my hand properly.  It doesn’t feel right.   Hopefully the occupational health bod I’m seeing on Tuesday will give me the okay to get the finger wet again.

Today I’ve been back to the gym and had a good Zumba session this evening, so all good.  Our village’s monthly Community Coffee morning today was good for the soul too.

And also good for the soul is our trip tomorrow to Weston super Mare, where our daughter, her husband and our grandson live.  It was Lynsey’s birthday yesterday, and we’re taking her out for lunch.    It’ll be good to see them for a few hours!