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Out to Lunch: Back soon

Posted by daveb on July 15th, 2009

My sister mentioned to me that I should at least post an “Out to Lunch” note here.

We’re back in the UK now, for a short while at least, which is the reason I haven’t written any humorous, insightful blog entries for a wee while now. Either that, or I’m incapable…

The blog is not dead: There’ll be more entries in a couple of week’s time. As you’ll recall, we started our travels back in 2007 with an attempt to zig-zag the UK from Lands End to John O’Groats. Unfortunately, as you’ll recall from the Tewkesbury flooding news stories, Mother Nature was most unkind to us as so we set south for France, deferring our UK tour. Now we’re back and are already planning a roadtrip around Wales which will start shortly.

After that, we’re off to Vancouver, Seattle and then setting sail on a whopping big cruise liner around the Alaskan coast — it’s only right that after living on cheese cobs and grotty hotels for eighteen months that we splurge the rest of our savings on booze and roulette on a Really Big Boat (yes it’s the one we spotted in Sydney’s Circular Quay when we visited).

In the meantime, consider subscribing to our free RSS feed or signing-up for free e-mail updates to save you the bother of checking back to see if we’ve posted anything here.

Travel Money: Foreign Exchange rates are negotiable

Posted by daveb on June 15th, 2009

You’ll be astonished at the variances between the rates you get at high street Foreign Exchange desks — the rate you get can even vary at the same desk!

Previously, when I saw the electronic ‘current rates’ boards in a travel agent’s window, I–and the rest of the world, no doubt–have assumed that that would be that.

Not so. I called in at the first agent, let’s call it ‘Tom Chef’, asked how many Pounds Sterling I would get for my AUD$1400 and US$700 of traveller’s cheques and was quoted £621.50 and £395.91, respectively. Never one to take the first offer on the table, I crossed the street to another outfit–let’s call it ‘Son of Thom’–and was quoted £597.64 and £381.54. I challenged the cashier by politely indicating that I had been offered a better rate elsewhere.

What resulted has both surprised me and subsequently rewritten my mental rules pertaining to consumer foreign exchange rates. Numerous keystrokes and mouse-clicks akin to those witnessed airline check-in and, lo!, the rate changed right before my very eyes. What was originally £597.64 + £381.54 became £636.37 + £400, straight-up.

Considering my next move, I jotted down the deal and made for the next shop. The cashier asked me to return if I got a better rate elsewhere. Three doors down was a ‘Travel Co-operative’ desk who offered yet better rates: £644.89 + £413.17, although crucially didn’t have enough Sterling to complete the deal today.

Back to Tom Chef to give them another go at it, to no avail: their original deal stood firm. And so back to Son of Thom for a final go at improving their offer. Rampant key-tapping nudged the rate higher again: Aussie Dollars from £636.37 to £645.17 and USTC from £400.00 to £414.21. Deal done.

I’m astonished at how a foreign exchange counter, in this case Son of Thom, was able to vary their rate — and by so much. They started by offering the worst deal (£979.18 total) and within a matter of keystrokes ended-up offering the best (£1059.38 total). That’s an improvement of over 8% — and all at same shop, same counter, same cashier!

My Mum commented that it must be nice for me to have an hour to haggle over the rates across town. My response was that I made over £80 for an hour’s work and there ain’t too many jobs paying that nowadays.

So there’s something you might not have realised, which I hope helps you as it did I: Foreign Exchange rates are negotiable.

“No, I’m not jet lagged”

Posted by daveb on June 12th, 2009

(Written at 05:00 three days after arrival in the UK.)

Half a world in a day

Posted by daveb on June 11th, 2009

Air travel is amazing, isn’t it? We’ve spent the best part of two years travelling from the UK to the Cook Islands, much of it overland through probably twenty countries including some in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia.

In only twenty hours of in-air time (about 24 hours with changeovers) flying east, Air New Zealand have safely delivered us right back where we started. Had I had known that I could fly around the world in just two days, I might have saved myself a lot of time and money… (not!)

It’s all a bit weird actually. Last night I was supping cocktails wearing my hibiscus flower-print shirt on a tropical island, then boarded a plane and dozed off. I woke up and munched my way through a cheeseburger surrounded by American fellows doing exactly the same in the departures lounge in Los Angeles airport. Boarded another plane and had another snooze. Now I’m at London Heathrow airport being met by our driver (a treat from my Dad — thanks Dad!) who will whisk us off to Wales to be reunited with my Mum.

And everyone’s looking funnily at my shirt.

Homecoming… thoughts

Posted by daveb on June 10th, 2009

If there’s one thing ten days in a monastery have taught me, it’s that all good things must come to an end. Including our round the world adventure. We’re coming back home to the UK soon, flying east of course — so that I can legitimately claim that we’ve been “around the world”!

We’ve still got a bit of travel planned soon after our return, most notably a trip to Vancouver to take part in Naomi and Ben’s wedding. For now thought, my thoughts have turned to our homecoming.

  • Will Britain be as glorious as I remember it, or am I wearing a deep shade of rose-tinted spectacles?
  • With so many new perspectives and learnings, will the way we live in the UK seem somehow different? Better? Worse?
  • Will our travel memories fade quickly as we reintegrate into the rigours of modern, Western life?
  • Will any of our friends and family give a monkey’s bottom about hearing us recount our stories, or will we be written-off as travel bores?
  • Did we really get danced-at by fifty sweaty African villagers, extorted, thieved-from and then sleep in a tree… all within a single day?
  • Is anyone still reading this blog, or am I just typing to myself?!

Right now, all I know is this: it has been a once (ok, maybe twice) in a lifetime adventure and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves through the good, the bad and the downright ugly, not to mention outrageous. As a couple, we’re still together and stronger for it: we’ve spent almost two years in pretty-much 24×7 close-company with their significant other and are coming away smiling!

Dear friends and family: we’re looking forward to seeing you soon and catching-up with your blogs, even if you’re not writing one.

Cook Islands: Dis is my island in di sun?

Posted by daveb on June 9th, 2009

As a week-long holiday destination, the Cook Islands rates very highly. It’s the sort of place that might be featured photogenically in the colour travel section of the Evening Standard on a dreary Monday morning, designed to make the luckless commuter wish they were half a world away sitting on a this tropical island rather than a chewing gum-riddled seat on the London Underground.

We spent our time exclusively on Rarotonga, the largest and busiest of the fifteen no-doubt beautiful Cook Islands. This was deliberate: we had certainly had our fill of raw, wilderness experiences over the last twenty-two months and wanted to be somewhere far away, but not too far to get a latte. And on this basis, Rarotonga fitted the bill quite nicely. At least, when we could get the bill. Or a coffee. Or a meal.

Grumbles aside, we had a really enjoyable time on the island. The waters are pristine, making for great snorkelling and diving. The scenery is little short of spectacular and the island shirts are, well, loud (see photo).

Thanks to the Cook Islands–self-proclaimed as the recession-free country–we enjoyed you very much.

Cook Islands: Clear water diving

Posted by daveb on June 8th, 2009

As you know, Squiffy and I are partial to a scuba dive or two. Especially when the visibility is over twenty-five metres as it is here in Rarotonga. Just look at the visibility in the photos below! (Apologies to the non-divers amongst us; take it from me, the water was really clear.)

Better still, we finally managed to get our picture taken with a turtle!

Cook Islands customer service: Relaxed island vibe or just plain tardy?

Posted by daveb on June 1st, 2009

We’ve been on the Cook Island of Rarotonga for a few days and we’re loving it. Even though I’m surrounded by shallow blue reefs, sandy beaches and coconut palm trees, my genetically-received gift allows me to find fault in even the most paradisical surrounds:

The customer service on Rarotonga almost exclusively sucks.

We’ve already stopped in at the two most expensive resorts on the island and both times have patiently waited over an hour for the wait staff to appear. In our most recent experience, the server never actually arrived and so we upped and left — which wasn’t too bad because that it meant that we got to enjoy the magnificent views from our waterside restaurant table without paying the ticket price.

Rather than bore my dear readers (both of you) with the numerous examples of the quite astonishing examples of staff disaffection, let me just speculate that the native islanders don’t really want us tourii here. What a bunch of inconvenient folk we are: “Gerroff my land!

There are exceptions–but only a few, mind–notably The Point restaurant and Sails. The former made us wait a long time for a pizza, but–when mildly quizzed by a increasingly hungry Squiffy–offered a profuse apology and a no charge for the squashed circle that eventually arrived. In fairness, the pizza wasn’t that-that bad, but the waiter was clearly embarrassed:

“Arrrr. Sorry for the, um…” (stares down at my abstract representation of a well-known Italian dish made with dough, tomatoes and cheese) “… pizza. The chef is experimenting with some new ideas in the kitchen. And they didn’t work. At all. This is his second attempt at making your pizza and I didn’t want to keep you waiting any longer. We won’t be asking you to pay for it. Maybe you’d like another cocktail?”

Like I say, it wasn’t that-that bad (and, alternatives considered, I’d recommend The Point to visiting holidaymakers). Certainly better than our experiences at The Rarotongan and the Pacific Resort, which in spite of their beautiful settings and not-so-beautiful prices, couldn’t find it in themselves to even approach our table. And when I did go to the bar in the Rarotongan, I clocked the barmaid short-pouring drinks (she looked up to gauge whether her customer would notice) and tried overcharging me for a hot chocolate — then implied that she was doing me a favour by accepting the lower menu price!

We cycled past a ‘Hospitality Training School’ on the island the other day. Either the businesses don’t send their staff here, or the trainers themselves need to go back to the books, or the culture encourages apathy and disaffection towards their ‘new world’ of tourism. Or I’m wrong; a miserable git whose idle mind is just finding fault with everything again. You decide!

Raratonga: Pedal powered island loop

Posted by daveb on May 29th, 2009

We had planned to spend our ten days in Brisbane selling our car and sightseeing: perhaps six to market, show and sell the car and four to sightsee. Our best laid plans were quite simply blown out of the water when we sold our car within a couple of hours of arriving in the city. So much for best laid plans, we now had nine whole days to sightsee — so much for best laid plans (I hope you’re reading this, Raymond!).

Naturally, the rapid sale of our car removed the final ‘unknown’ miniature-stress factor from our travelling existence and so we unexpectedly spent most of our remaining Australian days enjoying Kate and Harry’s beautiful Queenslander home–complete with large balcony in leafy surrounds–just a stone’s throw away from the city.

What this all meant is that we arrived in the Cook Islands after having completely relaxed already and, instead of fulfilling our preconceived ideas of chilling-out, we both found ourselves rather energised and looking for island activities!

Everyone’s buzzing around on motorised scooters here and so we’d thought that we’d give it a go. Even though my Mum would be horrified at the thought, there’s not much traffic here so we convinced ourselves that this place was as good as any to get on a motorbike. The local hire companies thought differently however: we only wanted to hire the bikes for a single day and nobody would let us on the road without any relevant experience for such a short hire. Confusingly, there were companies willing to hire out their bikes to riders without experience, as long as you agree to pay for a minimum of three days hire… (curious or sinister?!)

We spent most of the morning trawling the hire shops,  trying to make peace with the fact that this wasn’t going to work. Seriously, though I can’t believe that everyone on this island has a motorbike license — my nearest guess is that the numerous holidaymakers have agreed to the minimum three day spend. And they’re probably the same people that are walking around in slings and plaster…

A little dejected, but still energetic, we lowered our desires to push bikes and scored ourselves a couple of helmets to go with them. (Did I mention that even though everyone rides scooters, nobody wears helmets… bloody fools.)

Rarotonga has essentially one road and, being an island, it loops the 32km (20 miles) circumference of the land. Getting lost should be really difficult. As long as we keep riding in the same direction, we’d eventually end up back where we started.

Prevailing sore bums aside, we really enjoyed our familiarisation tour of the island. There are a lot of churches here, graveyards too. And quite a number of resorts too — we stopped in at the Rarotongan for a drink. It’s supposedly the best on the island, but I’d argue that the customer service is no better that the island standard — something I might riff about in a future blog. Still, they’ve got a great deck overhanging the shoreline and encourage you to throw titbits of bread into the water to feed the friendly fish.

A great day of riding, we’ll not be sitting down for a while though…

Cook Islands: Arrival by ukelele

Posted by daveb on May 28th, 2009

“Dis is my island in di sun”, strummed the straw-hatted, hibiscus-print shirt-wearing welcome wagon singer on his ukelele in the arrivals hall in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands. (Where? Once clicked, keep on zooming-out to find out!)

We didn’t quite get the flower-garland treatment that some of our other aeroplane buddies did; we had opted to stay in the cheapest accommodation on the island and so would receive the “no frills” package, both literally and figuratively.

Rarotonga in the Cook Islands is the busiest of the fifteen islands and we had deliberately chosen it as our week-long home, rather than place ourselves on a even more stunningly beautiful, but much more deserted, outlying Pacific island. We’re kind of done with the wilderness thing in the short term and I need to be able to get a cappuccino at a snap of my proverbial fingers!

We’ve not had time to have a good look around the island, but initial impressions are great. I’ll leave you with some photos to drool over…

“Waiter! Bring me coffee already!”