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Never again!

That’s what I say every time I fly these days…  “Never again!”

…and then the time comes to get from A to B and I think, “it must be better this time…”

OK, let me backtrack on this particular journey…

While my apartment in Sligo on the Irish west coast was in a fabulous location as far as view and walking distance to everything, it was also within a 3 minute walk for 11 bars!  Needless to say that every single night except Monday and Tuesday, until at least 3:00am, sometimes even 5:00am, it was impossible to sleep due to the music, rabble and brawls…

I wasn’t scheduled to leave Ireland until September 1st, but I finally reached that point where enough is enough and although I had paid for it until the end of the month, I left the apartment, drove across country, checked into a hotel for a couple of days (just to get some sleep!) before flying back to England.

Well, I don’t know what sleep gods I offended, but on my last night in the hotel in Balbriggan, just north of Dublin Airport, around 10:00pm a man walked into my room!  I was already curled up in bed, all the lights were off and I was watching some television, about to go to sleep.

When I screamed, he said, “sorry, wrong room” and left – and he did have a spray bottle in his hand, and was wearing all black, so seemed legit as a hotel cleaner – however it wasn’t until later (I was still wide awake after that well past 2:00am!) I wondered why he made it all the way through to the bedroom without turning on any lights..?

When I checked out, I told reception what had happened and they said that there were no cleaners scheduled at that time of night…

Anyway…  Apart from another night with no sleep, no harm done…

I returned my rental car at 9:00am and by 9:30am was at the counter to check in for my 12:30am flight to Exeter…

10:30am we are still at the vacant counter…

11:15am finally someone comes to open the counter and check us in… however I was informed that, despite me phoning the airline the day prior and discovering that I could pay 68 Euro for up to 46 pounds (my luggage was just under that) at the airport, they wanted to charge me 693 Euro!!!  That’s over $800 USD!!!  When I said that was crazy and questioned it, they said that Dublin airport charges more than the airline.

“But I didn’t contract with Dublin airport to get me to Exeter – I contracted Flybe and they quoted me 68 Euro..!”

After a half hour wrangle including management, my luggage was finally accepted for 68 Euro…

Then came the joy of going through security…  These guys seriously need a hug because at one point, one of them yelled at a passenger who had a couple of trays in front of them, “If you don’t stack them up down here, you will never get on your plane!”  I felt like responding, “sir, we don’t work here, you do!” but figured it was best to remain silent.

After my carry-on went through three times (they kept wanting to check this and that – and only one in about twenty was let through on the first screening) and my vitamin bottles were opened to be checked, I finally advised them my flight was boarding… which it was!  …although it still took me another few minutes to repack my bag that had basically been upended…

12:25pm I arrive at my gate – thankfully the flight had been delayed…

Remind me “never again” next time I say I am going to fly somewhere!  Hmmmm, I have already booked my flight to Reykjavik in February – I wonder if there are any boats that go that way?

Finally………..  On board, up in the air, and England comes in to view!!!  (well, more precisely Wales)…

After being puzzled that there was no border patrol to stamp my passport (last time I checked, the bottom part of Ireland is not part of the UK!), I collect my luggage and my wonderful taxi company is there to greet me…

Chatting with the driver on the way back to Torquay (about a thirty minute drive) we were discussing the fact that the English get a bad wrap for what some would say is being overly well-mannered (“we bump into a phone pole and apologise”), I said how much I had actually missed people apologising to telephone poles!  🙂

Finally, we arrive at my home away from home for the next few days until my apartment is ready on the 1st… and I couldn’t be happier…

View from the front door of my unit…

This is actually a photo of the whirly fairground thingummy on the beach below…

There was a band playing on the terrace however at 8:00pm the band stopped playing – at 10:00 on the dot the music volume was turned waaaaay down; at 10:50pm it was turned off; and almost as if someone flicked a switch, at 11:00pm…… silence!

It took me ages to actually get to sleep as my body was so sore from the hassle of the travel plus still being so over-tired – but once I did get to sleep, I barely stirred until I awoke just before 8:00am…

…and still not even a murmur outside apart from the sea birds…

It wasn’t until 8:10am until I even faintly heard another noise…

My bed is sooooooo comfy!  My unit in the hotel, while a little old, is just perfect!  Perfect (very large) size; perfect position… right next to the door to the gym and pool!

So, after doing some work, I changed and walked literally about 20 feet to the door to the pool!

After an hour or so of swimming, floating, and some of the best physio I have done in ages (and I was the only soul there!), I walked back, showered, and dressed to meet a dear friend for lunch… just in time as I was walking out the door, housekeeping arrived to clean my unit!  Perfect!

It was too hot to sit outside on the terrace, so I am happily perched in the conservatory…

I am back in Torquay, and I am HOME.  I am HOME.

~ Bella

First Class Overnight Train from Vienna to Roma

Ostia, here I come!

My wonderful limousine company picked me up from the lovely hotel in which I stayed while in Vienna and deposited me at Wien Hauptbahnhof, more commonly known as Wien HBF – the main train station in Vienna.

…and btw, those of us old enough to know what it means to “spend a penny” will appreciate this…  One needs to exchange money for the convenience, however the penny now needs to be 50 cents!  Talk about inflation!  🙂

Now up to the platform to await my train… along with a gazillion teenagers.

According to Rail Europe, one’s carriage and room is clearly marked…  Me thinks the word “clearly” was lost in translation somewhere as the only indication of which carriage was which were small stickers on the inside window of the carriage doors… (so you can imagine the scrambling over one another that was occurring as everyone was attempting to find their allotaced conveyance) – and once on the correct carriage, my ticket said my room was number 11.  The only problem with that was that there were only eight rooms on the carriage…

Minor technicality I thought – only to have the steward tell me that 11 didn’t really mean 11 – it mean 1.  Of course, I should have known that (not!).

So, now safely curled up in room 11 or 1, we set off…  Auf wiedersehen, Wien!

In my room awaiting me were the newspaper (and a very cute baby giraffe on the cover!)…

…some slippers, a towel, and some goodies…

…coat-hangers…

…and a bottle of Prosecco!

After we were underway for about 20 minutes, the steward came by, took my breakfast order and made up my bed – that I have to say was VERY comfortable!

Once I found where everything was located and settled in, I curled up early and listened to the beginning of “The Shack” audio-book.  One of my clients told me how much she enjoyed the movie and I figure, unless I want to see it in the cinema in Italian, it will be some time before it comes out on-demand – so to the book I went.

Eventually, I turned everything off and curled up to a better-than-expected sleep.  I love trains (particularly steam trains, but I didn’t see any that went between Vienna and Rome so…) and I find something soothing in the sound and rocking…

 

That is, until 1:20AM when the train skidded (literally) to a halt, throwing me into the wall (thankfully I wasn’t facing the other direction or I would have ended up on the ground) and my bags skidding across the floor!

Almost immediately everything went silent – no motors, no sound of air conditioner…  Nothing.

I thought we might have hit a cow or something and as I opened the blind, was expecting to see black nothingness on the other side.

Instead, I saw what looked like some type of maintenance stop.

We were there for about 15 minutes before the motors and air conditioner etc restarted – and then another 5 minutes or so before we again started off…

No idea what happened, but we ended up arriving in Roma 20 minutes late so me thinks this was not a scheduled stop…

Morning breaks and I see out of my window scenes stereotypical of Italy…

…and then – breakfast in bed!

About forty minutes later, we arrive in Rome…

…oh, and I don’t know if you can make them out, but there are beautiful vines all over the building in the background…

Now, this photo below is not what it seems…  It looks like the cars are waiting for that man to cross the road.  HARDLY!!!  Crossing the road here is like playing Frogger!  It just so happens, both vehicles were stopped to let people in/out/whatever…

…and yes, they are automatic weapons they are carrying…

My limo driver and I had a little difficulty finding each other – especially as he spoke very little English and I have yet to get a handle on Italian – but we eventually connected and then off we set for Ostia…

…driving through Rome, there are nuns everywhere!

Founded during ‘my time’ (LOL!), Ostia was established in 1884 next to the remains of Ostia Antica – the original port city of ancient Rome.

This, below, is a shot of where my apartment is – right in the heart of everything and literally 100 meters or so from the sea…

This is the view from the front door of my building – and I feel the bar next door will become one of my favourite spots… second only to my balcony here in the penthouse where I look forward to curling up for hours and writing…

Below is said balcony – currently devoid of furniture as there was a big storm recently so the owner put everything out of harm’s way – that is, after one of the tables literally blew off the roof!

View from my balcony…  It’s not massive, but I like it.

The bathroom has a spa-type feel…

Downstairs, literally around the corner is the local butcher…

This is a shot of the next-door bar from around the corner…

Turns out Saturday is marketS day – that is market plural…  You turn a corner – there is another market.  You walk a few hundred yards – another market!

From what I have seen thus far, Ostia is overall not what I would call a pretty place – it wears its challenges, grime, and litter very openly… but on the other hand, it is extremely vibrant – and there are pockets that are stunningly beautiful.

This is the market to which I am headed next Saturday to do my weekly vegetable shopping!  …and I couldn’t find anywhere near where I was in Vienna that had natural organic massage oil…  Hey presto!  …and my first transaction conducted entirely in Italian (as the stall holders did not speak a word of English).

Now, you might think this Mercedes is driving through the intersection – yes?  No – he is parked.

This little white zot is turning left, yes?  No – he is parked as well.

Perhaps the driver of this yellow thing is sitting there waiting for someone?  No – they are parked just like the ones further up the street.

…and yet another optical illusion that people give way at crossings…  The cars closest to me – parked.  The cars furthest away – parked.  The white on in the middle?  Stopped to let someone out.

…and finally, a lovely restaurant for lunch (even if they do have very uppity staff and are over-priced)… but since they are so close to home and so beautiful, I will probably be back…

Not sure what I ordered (LOL) but I know it was fish (that much I could translate) and it tasted like a cross between tuna and pork – with the consistency of swordfish.  It was delicious – or make that, delizioso!

…and now I am safely back in casa mia…

Wishing you a truly glorious weekend, my Friends!

~ Bella

Airport

Airports – Delightful and Horrid!

Airport

Airports – viva la difference – or NOT!

As you may know, I usually avoid mainstream commercial flying unless I can help it – preferring trains and boats to the hustle-bustle of long lines, security checks and more…

Well, on this trip from England to Vienna, I decided to take a flight and had booked Air France from Exeter International Airport through to Vienna with a one hour stopover in Paris.  While the entire flight was through Air France, the first leg was operated by Flybe and the second by Austrian Airlines.

In the car on the way from Torquay to the airport, the driver was recounting his airline horror stories and I countered with, “my experience at Exeter will be wonderful – they will not worry that my checked baggage is waaaay heavier than it should be – they will not care that I have every gadget and cable known to man in my carry-on case – my flight will leave on time – it will arrive on time to Paris – my connecting flight will also leave on time and arrive on time in Vienna!”

Airport Delight…

Well, part of my prophecy came true…

exeter-international-airport

Exeter Airport is delightful!  Seriously – it is small and lovely and the staff (including security) are all happy pixies…  Their bar is comfortable and everything there feel ever so relaxed…

Exeter Airport

The next part of my prophecy – my flight left and arrived on time.  Check!

On the plane, the woman next to me was telling me about her horror story of being in CDG (Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport) when a young child left her bag unattended and so they blew it up – literally!

When I had checked in at Exeter, I was advised that they were able to book my luggage right through to Vienna, but could not issue me a forwarding boarding pass – something to do with Air France regulations – but “just go to the gate and present this one and your ID and they will print you a boarding pass for your connecting flight”.

No where in my prophecy did I mention being able to actually GET ON my connecting flight – that, by the way, did leave on time – without me!

Airport Horror

First of all, we land at CDG and need to not only walk from the tarmac (not a big deal) but then to navigate up a zigzag, multi-level staircase from tarmac level up to the building level…  I walked over to a grounds person and asked her if there was a lift/elevator?  “No” was the abrupt reply.  I responded with, “well then, is there someone who can help me up with my case?”

The disgusted response from this very large American woman with braids, “ain’t no one here gonna carry your case for you!”

Thankfully another grounds person heard this and said they would carry my case up.

Once in the building, every CDG staff member I encountered while asking for information on which gate etc was rude, self-important and arrogant beyond all measure…  I was sent here and there and over there and somewhere else…  It was always someone else’s problem.

Finally, I went back to the first man I encountered when I entered the building and explained to him what had transpired since he fobbed me off.  He gave me instructions to the Air France desk.

Finally get to the Air France desk only to be told by the woman that she could not help, but she would be able to get me through security and then told me to go somewhere else…

After presenting all my paperwork and her paperwork to the security agent (bearing in mind, the security area was completely devoid of travellers at this point), the now rude and angry security officer not only put my belongings through the scanner, but opened and essentially upended my case to search through everything…  He even opened my wallet, took out the cash and wiped inside my wallet!!!

It took me about 10 minutes to repack everything into my case and handbag then followed my next set of instructions to another part of the airport – only to be told they couldn’t help me and sent me waaaay away to another part of the airport, only to be told they couldn’t help me…  This happened in total three times post-security-man and by this time I have had my passport stamped, been through security twice, pulled a muscle in my back, and am now at yet another Air France desk…

…only to be told – “I cannot help you”… (and at this point, my connecting flight would have already been on final boarding call – somewhere in CDG…)

Well, I lost it.  Complete with a very loud voice, expletives and threats, I threw a major temper tantrum at the Air France desk and said I was not going anywhere unless it was via chauffeured wheelchair straight through to the gate of whichever aircraft they were going to transfer me on to!

My tantrum worked and the woman not only transferred me on to another flight that was leaving in 25 minutes and upgraded me, she arranged a wheelchair at the other end and priority clearance through customs.

Perfect!  Only, she was not able to get my luggage to join me…….. but, thanks to the wheelchair, I was considered a ‘lost luggage priority customer’ and they found it and delivered it to me the following evening…

…bearing in mind that if I were a ‘normal’ customer, Air France only guarantees to deliver your lost luggage to you within 72 hours of it arriving at your destination airport!

plane

Note to Self:

Never, ever go to CDG again – EVER!!!

…ah, but the story ended well and that’s all that matters…  (that and never, ever, ever going to CDG again! LOL!)

~ Bella

steam train travel Devon

Steam Train Travel Through Devon

Glorious Steam Train Travel!

Being a lover of the Victorian era, it is not surprising that I adore steam trains…

Yesterday, I went via regular train from Torquay to the next stop being Paignton where I boarded the Dartmouth Railroad’s “Braveheart” steam train, bound for Kingswear, then across by ferry to Dartmouth.  Lunch beside the river then a cruise along the River Dart before returning via steam train back to Paignton.

As soon as I get a chance, I will add commentary to the following, but here are the photos of my amazingly wonderful day…  If you get the chance, you absolutely must do this journey!

 

 

 

 

…and here is a photo taken a day later from the Imperial Hotel in Torquay, looking across the bay and seeing the lovely plume from steam train making its way along the coast…

raileurope

Vienna to Italy via First Class Rail

train-rail-europeRoma, here I come!

Well, note quite yet, but my First Class rail tickets just arrived by courier today and I must admit I am very excited.

This will be the first overnight rail journey I have ever taken in Europe and I will be travelling from Vienna, Austria to Rome, Italy.

I finally and reluctantly leave beloved England at the beginning of March with my next stop being just short of three months in Ostia, Italy.  Located on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Ostia is around one hour from Rome.

On my way from England to Italy, I am stopping over in Vienna for a week – a lifelong dream!

Stay tuned…

~ Bella

 

travel security

Travel Security for less than $10.00

Travel security and peace of mind is something close to the heart of many a traveller, but how do you achieve it – in this case, specifically for your luggage – without spending a fortune?

When travelling solo (since you don’t have a partner or companion to be a lookout if you need to go into a store, for instance), this is a constant challenge, yet it is possible to at least give your luggage an extra level of security.

So, how do you get travel security for less than $10?

P1000520

While it won’t stop the determined thief (nothing will), this chain and combination lock is an excellent way to temporarily secure your luggage.

For instance, when travelling on many trains throughout Europe, your baggage is placed in a compartment at the end of your carriage.  Simply chaining them together (and possibly even to the railing on the compartment) is an excellent way of providing that extra little bit of piece of mind.

When travelling by yourself, one challenge that invariably arrives is what to do with your luggage when you use the rest-room?  While I’ve never had a problem with anyone tampering with nor stealing my luggage, on my future trips I must admit that I will feel slightly more at ease knowing they are at least secured together.

travel security

I found this chain in the ‘chains’ isle at Lowes (although you should be able to find it, or something similar, at any hardware store) and it was around $3.95.  It’s quite light-weight and when combined with a simple combination lock (that you can buy at hardware stores, many large pharmacies, department stores, even some supermarkets), gives at least an additional layer of security to your luggage.

One word of caution, in American airports, it is an offence to leave your luggage unattended.

Do you have other travel security tips?  Let me know so we can share them with the Tribe!

By Leigh St John, aka Luxurious Nomad

 

staycation

What is a Staycation?

Staycations – What are they and why are they sometimes better than a vacation?

staycationA staycation is essentially a short period of time – even if it’s simply a weekend – where you either stay home, or you book into a hotel somewhere near where you live.

Many families prefer a staycation not only because it’s affordable, but it often promotes better rest and relaxation. A staycation, by the very nature of the fact that there is little or no travel involved, will give you more time to relax and restore energy.

While travelling to exotic locations can be amazing, it can also take a toll physically and financially.  Enjoyment is not measured based on the money you spent, but the moments and experiences you gained.

If expensive weekend getaways have no room in your budget, instead try staycation. If you’re looking for more staycations ideas, check out the list below:

1. Laser Tag or Paint-balling: You can invite some of your friends or families to join and battle with you. There are numerous laser tags and paintball facilities everywhere, you can use Google to locate the nearest one.

2. Visit National Park: This is acknowledged as the country’s greatest treasure. If you have National park in the area, make sure to visit the ranger station first to pick-up a Junior Ranger Kit and complete required activities to get a badge. A National Parks Passports is also available in the park’s gift shops; you can assemble numerous passport stamps every time you visit.

3. Local Theater: Check the theater website or local newspaper to see the latest musicals, family friendly shows, concerts and plays. This is a wonderful way to spend your night with children, family, friends or special someone.

4. Amusement Park: If Disney World is quite far and expensive, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy in a nearby themed park. Local amusement parks offer unique features that can make you thrilled, fun and excited. Since this activity is often a lot cheaper than other vacation ideas, you can also treat your loved ones in a fancy dinner.

5. Local Museum for Children: If you have children at home it’s best to find staycation ideas that they can appreciate and enjoy. This type of staycation will definitely fit your budget. Many of them offer a variety of interactive and fun activities that can keep you busy the entire day.

6. Visit Aquarium or Zoo: Children are not the only ones who adore animals. Even adults can spend time seeing and enjoying animals, too. Before you go, make sure to check if they offer special programs – some offer opportunities to feed, or Junior Zookeeper programs. You may have to pack some lunch since zoo fare is often quite pricey.

7. Local Library: I love, love love libraries!  The majority of libraries offer family friendly activities and events.

8. Minor or Major League Sport Event: Major leagues are really fun but these are quite pricey especially for a family of 4, 5 or more. Good thing, most cities have minor leagues that can provide you same experience but at an affordable price.

9. Spa-Cation:  Another of my all-time favourites!  Consider treating yourself to a day at the spa, then come home to blissful music, candles and your choice of beverage (mine is good red wine!)

Whatever form of staycation you choose, it’s always nice to know that not only are you saving money, and saving travel time, but you are also supporting your own local economy.

By Leigh St John, aka the Luxurious Nomad

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