November 27, 2020

I’ve admitted defeat

I tried this morning to salvage my winter break to Hurghada but without success. The ‘alternatives’ that Kiwi.com originally proposed involved switching my outgoing leg to Hurghada from Basel to Amsterdam but that then involved a lengthy transfer by bus from Lille to Amsterdam with my having made my own arrangements beforehand to transfer myself from the airport to the bus station. I didn’t fancy that so I proposed a change of dates that if I’d booked the whole trip today would have cost 214€.

I then heard from Kiwi.com that easyJet had also cancelled my return leg from Gatwick to Bordeaux and their proposed ‘alternatives’ then changed – the cheapest being at an additional cost of 245€ ie more than if I just wrote off my original booking and made a completely new one! This obviously made no sense and I have therefore taken what I think is the sensible decision and cancelled the whole trip.

I’ve requested a refund which I may not receive for several weeks, or even months from what I hear, but as I’m cancelling within the normal 14 day ‘cooling off’ period, I think that I should be entitled for reimbursement in full. It’ll be interesting to see whether, as all four legs of my original booking were with easyJet, although by cancelling just two of them they’ve made the whole trip impossible, they’ll try to just refund for the two legs they’ve cancelled and hang on to the payments for the other two. I hope not as I think better than that of them.

I’ve also made requests for refunds of the sums I’ve paid for travel insurance and parking. I sent an email in connection with the travel insurance and again, as it’s within the 14 day follow-up period, I hope that I’m repaid without too much hassle. I know that the insurance would have covered me for any costs that I’d incurred from flights being cancelled but I’m hoping that if I do lose out, the amount(s) will be less than the just under 50€ that the insurance would have cost me.

Reclaiming what I paid for parking at Bordeaux was a bit more complicated as I had to download a form and send it off, but as it specifically mentions that full refunds will be made for claims made within the 14 day ‘cooling off’ period, I’m happy that that’s what will happen.

I know that I could now just make another booking for alternative dates but I can’t see the point as what’s to say that the same thing won’t happen again? The airlines are in an impossible situation with governments arbitrarily creating and closing ‘corridors’ and they have my sympathy but it’s making it almost impossible to make bookings for weeks ahead. For the moment at least, therefore, Covid has won, but I’ll leave it until closer to the day and see if I can arrange something at short notice which I know will happen. The trouble with that is that if/when it’s possible, prices are bound to have gone up 😐

November 26, 2020

Bad news

I received a message yesterday saying that the easyJet flight that I’d booked from Basel to Hurghada in February has been cancelled. Kiwi.com was offering alternatives, all costing more with several involving a bus transfer from Lille to Amsterdam which I don’t fancy. As they would all have meant reorganising my travel insurance and airport parking I decided to decline all of them and look for other alternatives myself.

When I contacted Kiwi.com I found that the easyJet return leg from Gatwick to Bordeaux had also been cancelled so that threw things even more up in the air. I’ve proposed rearranging my whole trip by putting it back to 15th February and staying for 10 nights in Hurghada. If that can be done for a supplemental payment, I’ll cancel my hotel booking and make yet another. The daily rate will be more expensive than I managed before but I’d have to live with that. I’d also have to see about rearranging my travel insurance and airport parking but I’m sure that I’d be able to do that on account of Covid guidelines.

However, if my suggestion isn’t accepted I think I’ll just cancel the whole thing and just go for refunds all round, which will be very disappointing as I have been looking forward to this winter break even more than I did for the previous occasions that I’ve gone. I’ve got to wait 24 hours or so to find out what’s going to happen so there’s nothing I can do until I hear back. It just shows how Covid is making everything so much more tricky and unpredictable than before.

November 25, 2020

Getting in the wood

I just made another somewhat whimsical Covid lock-down video as I like to make proper videos using footage from my Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter. It keeps me amused while I’m stuck at home and I also think that it’s what drones are for.

The video is a little snapshot of life in the Dordogne and it’s about what many of us here have to do at this time of year when winter’s just around the corner.

I’m hoping that I’ll have enough wood to see me through but it depends on how hard the winter turns out to be. I’ve got enough split down to keep me going for quite a few weeks and I’ll have to split more as I need it as winter draws on. Those cold winter days that we usually get in the new year… what a prospect!

November 19, 2020

Lighting the Fires in Lockdown

Just as in the first lockdown of 2020 here in France, we’re not permitted to fly our aircraft. Whether that’s a daft decision or not as if you fly solo and take off and land at the same location you wouldn’t come into contact with another person, but that discussion is for another day.

But whether they’re flown or not, our aircrafts’ engines must still be occasionally started and run until they’ve warmed up in order to keep them in good order and mitigate corrosion and the DGAC published a letter during the last lockdown giving pilots permission to do that as well as make short flights to a maintenance facility if their airworthiness certificate would otherwise lapse.

That doesn’t apply for ULMs but we still need to run our engines, so that’s what I planned to go to Malbec and do this afternoon. I took a GoPro with me to record events but then succeeded in deleting nearly all of the footage that I’d recorded while transferring it to my PC. Below is a link to the video that I put together from the material that I managed to salvage.

Hopefully even if this ruddy ‘confinement’ is extended in some form after its scheduled end date of 2nd December we’ll be permitted to fly again subject to similar conditions to last time. It’s very frustrating because while we’ve been gounded for the past few weeks we’ve had perfect flying weather and I’d have liked to have boosted my feeble flying time before the end of the year.

Even if we can resume flying after 2nd December you can bet that by then the weather will have changed – plus I’m expecting delivery of some new windows in the first week of December that I’ll then need to fit before the weather takes a turn for the worse. How typical is that, eh… 😕

November 17, 2020

I’ve taken a gamble

But had a bit of luck! After I’d completed my course of chemo back in January 2018 I booked a week in Hurghada on the Egyptian Red Sea in order to get a bit of sun and raise myself back up both physically and spiritually. It worked so well for me and I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been back twice since at about the same time of year, in 2019 and this year, and I had every intention of making a booking for 2021. Except, of course, the Covid crisis has messed everything up. Or so it seemed.

I originally began checking prices and the availability of flights and the hotel a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised to find that if I was prepared at that time to take the plunge I could book a flight from Bordeaux, as I did last year, and a room at the same hotel as before for just a little less than I paid this year. The first time I went I booked through Thomas Cook but on the two occasions since then I’ve made my own bookings and secured excellent savings each time but I would have been very happy to arrange everything again for what it cost for 2020.

However, I was uneasy to go ahead at that time as the whole Covid thing was (and still is to a great extent) very much up in the air and I wasn’t keen on making financial commitments that might well have turned out to be at risk, so I held back. And lucky I did, because when I looked back again for the dates that I had in mind, there were no flights available from Bordeaux and even the hotel availability seemed uncertain.

And the latter had increased in price in the meantime even if I could book a room through the source that I’d used previously. But I decided to keep my eye on things because the earlier you book the better the prices you get on both the flight and the accommodation. Even the airport parking. I put off booking (and paying for) my parking at Bordeaux for a few weeks last year and it ended up costing me around 20€ more!

The flight in particular is important because you can’t fly direct from Bordeaux (or any French airport I think) to Hurghada so you have to make at least one stop and transfer. In fact you can be forced to make two or even three depending on when you want to go and how much you want to pay because airlines just want to get bums on seats and are prepared to accept just a few euros to do so rather than leave a seat empty.

So the trick is to trade off journey time and the number of stops against cost. There are several canny web sites that let you do that and my favourite is Kiwi.com. It can find lots of flights for you, even ones that start off with a bus journey to a cheaper airport or send you off initially in totally the wrong direction.

Now, I don’t want to head off to Hurghada via Spain and take two days or more to get there and I definitely don’t want to start off with a long bus ride, especially after last year when our flight was disprupted by an air traffic control strike in France and instead of being able to fly straight to Geneva for an overnight layover, we had to fly to Lyon and then take a bus there. It wasn’t that painful as we’d otherwise have been longer overnight in Geneva than we actually were, an experience that I wouldn’t recommend as apparently the Swiss don’t see the need for passenger seating in airport terminals.

So when I checked again a couple of nights ago and found that now I could book easyJet a bit later than before, in early February, the whole way to and from Hurghada with only one stop in each direction, I was immediately interested. I prefer easyJet because of its larger cabin bagage allowance and was even more delighted because whereas in 2020 the return flight had cost me 216€, this time around I could do it for only 167€!

OK, I’d have to pay for it now and there is always the threat that it will be disrupted, even cancelled, because of Covid. However, 167€ isn’t the end of the world, and as my son pointed out to me, I’d be able to get a refund or even a voucher that I could use to fly to the UK as and when the Covid thing clears up.

The fare I found maybe needs a bit more explanation. When you do a search using Kiwi.com, you don’t just get one price for your trip. You actually get a price grid showing how the fare varies, up and down, for the days around your planned travel dates, there and back. This is great for people like me who are totally flexible. In fact it meant that last year, by choosing a longer stay-over in Egypt and paying for two days more in the hotel, I got a stay of 11 nights for less overall cost including flight than I would have paid if I’d stayed for only 9 nights. See what I mean about canny… 😉

My 167€ fare was again only for a 9 night stay in Egypt, but that will suit me fine as I did find this year that 11 nights was actually a bit long. So then it was time to book the hotel, but my luck then ran out. I’ve stayed at the same hotel on all the previous occasions, the Hawaii Riviera Aqua Park Resort, which I would have been happy to go back to, but for some reason I just couldn’t make a booking on the internet.

I’m sure that it’s still in business – maybe it’s up-in-the-air because of Covid – but whatever, that’s no good to me as having got a flight lined up I must have a hotel room ready and waiting for me. So I had to look for an alternative, a pleasant, reasonably priced hotel with all-inclusive service and preferably on the beach with a sea view. And I found it in the form of the Labranda Club Makadi resort.

My original hotel, the Hawaii Riviera, is located some 20 kms to the north of Hurghada airport whereas the Labranda Club is some 30 kms or so to the south. It also appears to be quite different in character, smaller for a start. Here’s a shot of the entrance of the Hawaii Riviera.

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And here’s a shot of the Labranda Club (I’ve just lifted all of the Labranda Club shots below from various internet sites).

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The facilities at the Hawaii Riviera seem to be on a larger scale than those at the Labranda Club, the former having more ‘aqua-park’ attractions like water chutes and slides aimed at children and families, whereas the Labranda Club seems to be aimed more at adult clients. Here’s a view taken this year from my room at the Hawaii Riviera.

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And here’s an exterior view at the Labranda Club. I won’t miss the water chutes and slides as I don’t use them, preferring just to lie in the sun and read my books.

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The rooms at each establishment seem to bear many similarities in terms of both layout and the facilities they contain. First, my room this year at the Hawaii Riviera.

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Now some shots of rooms at the Labranda Club. The first two are of a typical double room which would be equivalent to my room at the Hawaii Riviera.

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This final shot is of a ‘standard’ room, which is probably more like what I’ll end up with.

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My room at the Hawaii Riviera this year was fairly atypical. When I arrived I refused the first room that I was taken to because it was so dark and dingy and was moved into the one shown. This was in a more recently built roof-top annexe and was brighter, cleaner and much nicer than the rooms I’d occupied on the previous two occasions. I think, but don’t know for sure, that the Labranda Club is newer and more modern than the Hawaii Riviera but in any case, I’m looking forward very much to going there and am keeping my fingers crossed that my trip won’t be dusrupted by ongoing Covid problems.

So what’s the gamble I’ve taken? It’s that by the time I’m due to travel, the main Covid-related problems will have passed. The Labranda Club reopened after the Egyptian Covid shut-down in June of this year and is taking stringent anti-Covid measures, say management, so hopefully I will be able to look forward to my stay there being smooth. But in any case, I don’t have to pay anything until late January, just a week before my planned departure date, and can cancel at no charge at any time up to then, so there’s not much at stake there.

And surely we will all be flying again by the first week in February of next year. We can’t stay locked-down forever and in any case, there should be vaccines available by then which will start to allow life to get back to normal. And also, by planning my trip for a couple of weeks later than I have previously, it will allow a bit more time for the problems to be solved.

So what was the ‘bit of luck’ that had? Last night I booked my planned 9-night stay at the Labranda Club and as is often the case, the web site flashed a message saying that this was ‘the last room available’ at the price. And as I mentioned above, it was ‘book now, pay in January’ with no-cost cancellation. This morning I checked back on the internet to get some photographs for this post and idly decided to check whether there were rooms still available and if so, for how much more than I’d paid.

This will make you smile. In fact the site said, once more, ‘the last room available’ was there to be snapped up but instead of costing more than I’d paid last night, it was for nearly 35€ less than I’d paid the previous evening for my 9 night stay! So what did I do? Obviously I cancelled my original booking (at no cost) and made a new one! Come on, what would you have done if you’d been me?

So what did this mean? In 2018, booking through Thomas Cook, I paid 672€ including flight for a 7 night stay. Booking myself, in 2019 I paid 535€ for a 9 night stay and 620€ for an 11 night stay this year, the latter figure ‘all-in’ including insurance and airport parking. This time around I’ve paid 462€ all-in for a 9 night stay and that I think is a real result. Happy holidays 🙂

November 14, 2020

Another Microsoft Fail

Is Microsoft the most useless, gormless organisation in the universe? I think that there’s a distinct possibility that it is.

I’ve had a Microsoft ‘account’ for years for which I’ve used the same email address the whole time for log-in purposes. I call it an ‘account’ but it’s no such thing really as no financial transactions are ever involved. In fact, it’s only purpose nowadays is so I can log in every morning while I’m eating my breakfast to do the on-line Solitaire daily card game challenge and the only data it stores are my daily scores.

But shock horror, I recently really upset Microsoft’s system by changing my email address. I had no choice because I’d been using a free address that was being withdrawn unless I wanted to start paying for it and as most of the messages it received were junk, I didn’t much fancy that idea at all.

I’d also been using that same email address for log-in purposes on quite a few other web sites both in the UK and elsewhere so I had to embark over several weeks on a lengthy exercise of changing it on all of those as well as on my Microsoft ‘account’. The other web sites did actually include some significant ones, such as Paypal and Amazon where security is very important and very much so in comparison to Microsoft, and after going through the required procedures, which were fairly painless, the changeovers occurred and all are now functioning with the new email address that I switched to.

But not so Microsoft. Oh no. Microsoft detected ‘unusual’ activity on my ‘account’ and decided to bar it. Err, yes, it was due to a change in email log-in. Now humans are far too important within Microsoft to be bothered by petty matters concerning customers so there’s no way of contacting them and everything is dealt with by an ‘automatic system’. And this ‘intelligent’ system requires you to respond using the email address that you’re no longer using (that’s how bright their programmers are).

You then have to submit yourself to a process of confirming details about your ‘account’ which in my own case go back so many years that I can no longer recall them (eg the number of the credit card I used to pay for a Skype service back in around 2010) after which it tells you with no recourse that it hasn’t received enough information to unbar the ‘account’ thus leaving you in continued limbo.

So horror of horrors, Microsoft has now barred me fom my daily Solitaire card game. For security reasons. Is this pathetic or not? I certainly think so. It’s a tragedy that this appalling organisation that hasn’t had an original idea since Gates et al devised their operating system can continue to live well on that legacy despite their inept management style and business model. And it’s total contempt and disregard for those unfortunates like myself who have to continue using its services will hopefully some day lead to its downfall.

November 10, 2020

Autumn’s arrived

And here in the Dordogne autumn brings with it chilly mornings that fill the river valleys with mist and later burst into sunshine-filled days with clear blue skies. I shot a video on one such morning a couple of days ago using my Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter and I’ve just edited it and uploaded it to my Youtube channel.

It’s all very frustrating. We’ve had perfect flying weather for much of the last two weeks but once again we’ve been grounded because of Covid. So whereas I’d been hoping to make up my flying time in this latter part of the year instead my two aircraft, the Savannah and the Xair, have just been languishing on the ground. Flying my drones from my garden during this latest lockdown in France is OK but it’s still a rather poor substitute for the real thing 🙁

November 3, 2020

Making good inroads

The supplier from whom I’ve obtained my wood for the past two or three years let me down again this year, as they did last, by leaving their wood out into the autumn so it got wet. I had problems last year getting my woodburner up and running, for the first few weeks anyway, and I didn’t want to have to face the same difficulties all over again, so I had to look for another source this year.

I came across someone from over near the Chateau de l’Herme in Rouffignac and after making contact last week, took my trailer over yesterday morning to pick up 4 stères, 2 of ‘chêne’ (oak) and 2 of ‘chataignier’ (chestnut, so called, or just general wood really). Four stères weighs about 3 tonnes and although he gave me a hand getting it loaded, I had to unload and stack it outside my wood store all by myself, so it was a tiring business. But I was all finished by not long after 1.00 pm, as I wanted to be, as I had to get over to Périgueux for a routine follow-up medical check later in the afternoon.

Here’s the stack as at yesterday before I went off. That’s my neighbour’s cat who always comes to spend time with me when I go outside.

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This year once again, I’ve got to cut it down from the standard 1 metre lengths that it’s come in and split it as necessary down to sizes to fit into my woodburner. Plus I also like to make some ‘smalls’ that I can use when I initially start it up. The wood man assured me that the wood could be left out as no rain was expected but I didn’t trust the forecast and felt sure that we were going to get a bit, so I used my one and only large waterproof plastic tarp to cover the wood pile up with. And lucky I did, because sure enough we had enough drizzle overnight to create small pools of water on the plastic but the wood remained safe and dry underneath.

I got cracking this morning to cut and split it down to size. I’ve still got my electric saw that I could use to cut the lengths down but I’ve decided this year to use my chainsaw instead as it’s quicker and less trouble. The Stihl saw that I bought from LeBonCoin a year or so ago has turned out not to be one of my better buys and is more trouble than it’s worth but luckily the cheap-as-chips saw that I bought at Brico Depot to clear my garden with shortly after I arrived in France is still going like a bomb with a new chain and guard, so I’m using that.

I’d hoped to get half of the wood done today but I think that might be optimistic as I’m now a bit tired for starters. Here’s how things looked when I came in to grab some lunch a short while ago.

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I’m now going back out to get going again. Who knows, I might make it…