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A VISIT TO THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS - On the face of it, this excursion sounded enchanting. I had never been to a Christmas Market per se. Four days and three nights in the Ahr Valley for about £150 per person sounded good value for money. A brief itinerary was: Set off at 4am Friday 24 November to catch the 8am Chunnel. One stop at the Aachen services and arrive in Altenahr at about 4 pm. Very pleasant and gentle travel. So far, so good. Although the brochure mentioned the ‘Bahnhof Hòbel and its satellites situated around it’, we did not expect our Gasthaus to be 1.5 miles away. And the entrance was up a lot of steps. If we had seen a picture of it we would not have booked. We had breakfast on the site but had to be bussed to the main hotel for the evening meal. It also meant that we were nowhere near the shops. The people who looked after the Gasthaus had to help out at the main hotel in the evening, so we had no bar. However necessity is the mother of invention and we sorted ourselves out. Although the staff visited our rooms during the day, viz the open window that had been left closed, a shortage of toilet paper was not remedied and splinters of glass were not swept up although we had informed them of the accident. On the Saturday we had an interesting trip down the Ahr Valley to Ahrweiler to our first Christmas Market. There was one stall open; the others would be opening later. The excursion in the afternoon was to Cologne and this was a great success, helped on by copious amounts of Gluhwein and a visit to a Bier Keller. The evening saw us in a wine cellar. The three coach loads of people were too much for the lone poor guide during the tour of the cellars but he came into his own at the tasting with his brilliant repartee. Whoever said that no good red wines come out of Germany? They have two grape varieties, Portugeser and the Spatburgunder (more commonly known as Pinot Noir) that, because of the valley’s steep sides trapping the warmth during the summer, produce beautifully full-bodied wines. The downside to the visit was their inability to accept credit cards because ‘the machines were down’. However, we prevailed on them to accept Sterling. Being a village their were no ‘holes in the wall’ to obtain further supplies of deutchmarks. Sunday saw us visiting Valkenberg in the morning when some adept juggling by the courier managed to sort out the opening hour problems. The last straw came when we found out that the Aachen Market would not be opening until 6pm – far too late for us. Instead we had to put up with a visit to the highest point in Holland (800m) where Holland, Belgium and Germany meet. Hardly an equivalent excursion. In conclusion, we believe that Travelscope had not carried out sufficient research and had run the holiday on the weekend before all the markets were sure to be open. They had not taken into account the fact that in Germany, the Sunday was the ‘Sunday of the dead’ when attractions do not open until 6pm. The hotel appeared to be staying open to attract that extra bit of business with inadequate staffing. The breakfasts were a perfectly satisfactory continental type but the evening meal, which had started off very good on the first evening gradually deteriorated (to include stale bread with mould spots). Was it all bad? Of course not. The driver and coach (Harding’s) were brilliant, whilst the courier, who was not employed by Travelscope, and was a very competent Travel Manager, turned what could have been a disaster into a slightly better than mediocre holiday. I hope this holiday was a one-off because we have travelled with Travelscope before to the Moselle and had a very good holiday. THE MORAL OF THE STORY. It doesn’t pay to go on a Christmas Market holiday before the beginning of December.
If one visits their shops, the staff is very knowledgeable and attentive, but my experience of their e-tailing is not so joyous. I had obtained a catalogue from a shop, so the ordering of the items on 1/10/2000 was quite straightforward. Three items were in stock and the fourth item would be available within the week. So I opted to wait until all the items were available. For information it requires an order of £50 to be postage free. On 20/10/2000 I decided to test out their order tracing service. The fourth item was still unavailable. An email from Jessops elicited the information that I could have the available goods separately. So I opted for this. On 15/11/2000 the item that had been unavailable arrived. No sign of the remainder. An email on the 16/11/2000 informed me that two of the remaining three had been despatched. The third item, which had been in stock, was now unavailable. On 24/11/200 the last item arrived. This was two months after the order had been placed. Each of the three deliveries came in a box large enough to have carried all four items. Worse still, each box was packed full of polystyrene pearls which were attracted to one’s hands and very difficult to get rid of. I hope that they are biodegradable. Contrast this with ‘Past Times’ who filled the spaces with sealed inflated plastic bags. On the credit side, Jessops only debited my credit card as each item was despatched.
Can one get DVT from waiting for a meal in extremely cramped conditions. My wife and I decided to accompany our daughter, son-in-law and 3 granddaughters to our local club for Sunday dinner. Unfortunately the kitchens were still not ready for use after a refurbishment. What to do! We decided on the spur of the moment to try out a local hostelry, the Pheasant at Winnersh. In earlier years this was just a public house, but had now branched out with food and a nearby accommodation block. Therefore there is ample parking. As the visit was on the spur of the moment we had not booked and perhaps we were lucky that they were able to fit us in. The atmosphere was fairly smoky when we entered and each table had an ashtray thereon, although there were ‘no smoking’ signs up. The conditions were extremely cramped and I think that the waitresses must have had bruises all over from bumping into my chair. The table for four had enough room for four plates and we had considerable trouble deciding where to put the dish of vegetables and the gravy bowl. However, we decided to remain there as, on numerous occasions, my wife and I had finished up with just a packet of crisps because we were too choosy. The selection on the menu was very good and we all plumped for either roast beef or roast lamb. After about an hour the meal arrived and was very acceptable, but the roast meat had not been carved off a freshly cooked joint. It did not have that chunky feel to it. From the piece of foil attached to one slice, it had obviously been warmed up. The vegetables were lovely, just on the right side of crisp. Not cooked to death. There was broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and light green cabbage. The potatoes appear to have been micro waved and were unacceptably hot. The Yorkshire pudding and gravy were superb. The price was a fairly reasonable £4.95, but I don’t think we shall be sampling their fare again.
I have never wanted a mobile phone. I bought one for my wife so that she could call for help if the car broke down or she had some other problem. I thought that it would also come in handy if the narrowboat broke down in midstream. Apart from occasions like these I could see no use for them nor did I want the intrusion into my life. I had made up my mind that I did not want to be part of this world. I feel the same about telephones. I still would not have had a mobile phone if my daughter, who had taken out a rental with Orange and had been given a ‘Just Talk’ phone as a freebie, had not passed it onto me. My wife however is now into text messaging – PIP PIP PIP as she pushes the buttons all day long. Last Saturday my wife and I went shopping in Woodley. It is only a small shopping centre surrounded by car parks. We use the car park where you can recover the parking charge by spending £5 in Waitrose. After completing our grocery shopping, I said that I would take it back to the car whilst she visited other shops. ‘Will you bring the car round to the Co-op car park?’ my wife asked. ‘No’ I said ‘I will come and meet you’. Having taken the shopping back to the car I proceeded to look for my wife. After about half an hour I was becoming extremely worried. I had looked in every shop she would have visited, some of them twice. I had even been back to the car to see if she had returned there. If I had had my mobile phone with me, I could have given her a ring to see where she was. As a last resort, before going home to get my mobile phone, I decided to check the Co-op car park. There she was waiting for me and getting thoroughly worried about me. I have now decided that it would be prudent to carry my mobile phone with me whenever I go shopping with my wife. Having got used to this modern technology, we find them easy to use.
I was dragged screaming and shouting into the Technological Age. Although I used a computer at work and dabbled at home, I was not interested in the Internet. All those viruses running about; people being able to read what was on my computer and being able to tell what equipment was installed on it. It was my wife who, unbeknown to me, arranged with our son-in-law for a modem and access to an ISP. When the day dawned I put up with it with not too good a grace. Just think of all those telephone bills and the fact that people would not be able to contact us. Ah well! I decided to have a go at Internet banking and almost sank under a welter of user numbers, passwords and memorable data. Still most of the Internet banking I have tried is acceptable and much easier than getting to the bank and very much cheaper than postage. My wife decided to have a go at DOOYOO and I raised my hands in horror. I could visualise those ever mounting telephone bills. Then along came Freeserve Unlimited Access. For a monthly fee of £10 (which includes up to £10 of National and International calls) we could have 'free' Internet access. This seemed like a bargain as in a worse case scenario it restricts the cost of our Internet calls to £10 per month. I am not going to fight against it anymore. If you can't beat them, join them. So now I am a surfing addict. PS. We now use a mobile so that people can contact us whilst we are on the internet. Something else I was against, but that is another story.