Tuesday, 21 March 2017

8 important questions to ask when booking car hire

We've often used a family members car when we've visited the UK, but as we usually fly into Heathrow or more often Birmingham, it's one heck of a trip getting to South Wales or Bath to collect the vehicle and with family and friends living all over the UK, it's been easier on our last few trips to book car hire.

We've used one of the larger search engines to find the best deals, but there have been a few hiccups and often the place where we've had to collect the car from has involved a train, bus trip or walk to reach it. Service has often been slow and poor and not fun when you've just got off a long haul flight, lugging a 30kg suitcase and hand luggage.

On both the last two occasions, when we returned the vehicles there was some minor damage to the paint work, scuff marks and stone chips.

We took out Collision Waiver Damage, CWD, which almost doubled the initial costs advertised on the website with the booking company.

CWD means that any accident, theft or damage to the vehicle is covered fully, but it also means you lose your deposit to the actual car hire company and then you have to provide receipts which you forward to the booking company for a full refund.

Having your car hire and insurance with different companies worked well for us the first time and the £400 deposit was returned to our credit card before the payment was due.

However on the last trip, the deposit was £1200 and was retained by the car hire company, for 2 stone chips and a scuff mark that could've easily T cut out had I had the car cleaned before returning it. Receipts were forwarded as before, but this time I waited 3 months before the deposit was refunded, meaning I had to pay the credit card bill off in full. I only got my deposit returned after I threatened the booking company with the ombudsman. The delay was due to the car hire company not providing evidence of the cost of repairs, meaning I had to wait for them to refund the difference between the repairs and the deposit then the booking company refunding the cost of the repairs.

As a result and the difficulties in sorting things like this out from another country, I've decided to investigate booking direct, with everything in one place. The car hire and the insurance together is almost double the price of booking with one of the low cost companies, but the excess is very high and to reduce it to £0 the cost of hire, the cost almost doubles again.

It's not always transparent at the time of booking the T&C's of car hire and these are important questions to answer before renting a car.

  1. Do you return the car empty or full?
  2. Is the mileage limited?
  3. What is the cost for an additional driver?
  4. Is there an additional charge for drop off at another location?
  5. Is CWD included? Is it with the car hire company or an independent?
  6. Breakdown?
  7. What is the excess? How do you recover your costs from CWD?
  8. Windscreen and wheel rim protection?

I also think there should be some wear and tear allowance to vehicles, yes I'm responsible for scuffs to body work and damage to the paint, but stone chips are a bit difficult to avoid.

So I've gone back to using search engines and found a different one to book through this time. However I still have to collect the car from the place where I had the problems on my last visit. I've decided I'd rather keep the costs down, as I need car hire for 4 weeks and again in June for approximately 12 weeks.

Who do you use for car hire? Have you experienced similar problems?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Why are women so mean?

I’m battling boredom and loneliness here in Dubai, I just about established some roots after 4 years in South Africa, made friends and found a purpose and it was gone over night as we relocated to Dubai, just over 2 years ago.

In South Africa we knew very few expats, in fact hardly any. We lived in an Afrikaans area, around Pretoria, with the children attending an English School. I was unable to work, due to visa restrictions and Peter worked in Johannesburg, which had a higher concentration of expats.

Peter’s colleagues were all South African as were our friends, even the few British people we met had been resident in South Africa for upwards of 10-20 years.

I went to every event I saw advertised, charities, golf do’s, accepted church invites, attended coffee mornings and events at the kids school. Unfortunately I would often be the only none Afrikaans speaking person there and I’d smile and nod along not knowing what was being said. But I persisited until I made friends and found a purpose.

I had upsets along the way such as when I met and English family who invited me to their home then forgot I was coming and I never heard from them again. Or arriving at an event to discover the only spare seat had a handbag sat on it and despite me asking if I could sit there, I was ignored. There were also loads of coffee dates that people would fail to turn up to, without messaging to say something had come up, only to discover being friends with the newbie wasn’t going to be beneficial to their husbands business or child’s development.

We got to know one couple whose children were in school in the UK and had been living in South Africa and other African countries for 2 decades, who were affectionately known as the ‘when we’s’ as in ‘When we lived in Keenya…….’ And were keen to make us feel like South Africa was just like living in the UK compared to their experiences. As time went on, I realized that one of their children had attended a school local to where we had lived in the UK, that we knew some of the same people and had been to events at various places, probably at the same time and the friendship turned sour.

Then one day we turned up to their house as arranged, they weren’t in and despite seeing them at the golf course they repeatedly ignored our existence until eventually one day, I walked over to talk to some other women I knew and upon this woman seeing me, she pulled her chair round and blocked me out the conversation.

I’ve had similar experiences also in Dubai and despite making a few friends through having worked here for a year and through walking Bob. Dubai is more transient and quite frankly can be very false. People posting endless pictures on facebook of them at brunch, relaxing at a spa or hiring a cabana on a private beach, the reality is often different and they are living in debt, up to their max on credit cards and generally living outside of their means. I’ve found a lot of women don’t want to discuss day to day life, they don’t have issues, worries, concerns they want to share. It's all about networking, who has been to the best brunches and had the best experiences.

It's sad really, people come for a few years, move back to the UK and spend the rest of their lives as 'when we's'

I know I'm sounding judgemental, but when you attend a coffee morning and all everyone is discussing is their latest designer bag or talking about their brunch experiences, it's hard not to be.

I walk into new environments now on edge, I'm asked my occupation, I don't have one. This can go either one way or another. If I'm meeting a group of people in a bar, it's usually because they're working and have nothing to say. If I'm meeting a group of people in a cafe, usually all women, they ask if I have children and what my husband does for a living. You can quickly see that a) I'm no use for play dates as my kids have left home and b) my husbands job can't benefit their networking aims.

Not all the women I meet are like this, but I often find a lot just aren't being their real selves. They too have been in a similar situation to me, where they've just not fitted in, but unlike me I refuse to play games and if I don't fit I just walk away, not change myself to be something I'm not.

It strikes me as being similar to the school playground. But in the playground, working life and in South Africa I finally found my 'place' and made good friends, I just think it's slightly harder in Dubai as it's so transient. 

Do you find it easy to make friends? 
Without children for play dates and not working it does get harder to meet people. 
How do you make friends?

Sunday, 19 March 2017

In the night garden Week 116 My Sunday Photo and HDYGG? G is for Gardening

Raised sandpit at the front of the house.

We have outside access all round our villa, the front part is mostly block paved, but it features a raised sandpit. To the right of the villa there is a larger sandpit, at the end of the block paving. The back of the villa, is again block paved and it's where the washing gets hung out. To the left of the villa there is a small lawn and further block paving.

Larger sandpit to the right of the villa.

The villa is painted white and the gardens are walled around 5-6ft tall, there were only bougainvillaea planted in the garden when we moved in and little else.

The first year we were here I decided to experiment with the weather and growing plants directly into the sand and I managed to germinate and grow marigolds, tomatoes and a variety of other plants and vegetables.

Last year I didn't experiment as much, as I was working, but I did grow basil from seed and nasturtiums.

This year I've been more adventurous and I'm growing accidental potatoes. I attended a gardening demonstration and organic seeds were being handed out, I managed to germinate them, as well as squash and aubergines. I say 'accidental' as I had no idea what was in the packet I received. So far we've harvested 2 aubergines and had them for dinner on Friday night in a curry.

I've also grown this year, from seed, the following:

Tomatoes, peas, chillies, more basil, parsley, peppers, mint, nasturtiums, sweet peas and sunflowers.

March in Dubai is Plantation and Park month, celebrating the opening of 5 new public parks in Dubai and green spaces. To mark the 33rd year of this scheme, free plants were being handed out around parks in Dubai. I now have several trees, 2 of which will yield lemons, several shrubs, some strawberry plants, bedding and ground cover.

I spent Saturday from midday till 10.30pm levelling sand, digging, planting and watering. 

 Digging a hole in the sand was actually harder than you'd imagine, the sand is so fine it just kept refilling the hole.

I have no idea if what I've planted will take, I am unable to identify the trees but I was told that they each produce a different colour flower, red, yellow and white.

There was a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards, which I'm ashamed to say I left mainly to the gardener, well you can see from the 'before' pictures there really wasn't much for him to garden anyway. I washed the patio, walls, windows and got all the garden furniture set up as I intend to spend most of my week sitting in the garden, as it will be too hot to enjoy very soon.

This is the end result, I will be in the UK at the end of the week, so I'm hoping that between Peter and the gardener they will water the plants for me twice a day and I look forward to seeing the progress on my return at the end of April.

Left of the villa.

 Right of the villa.

Front of the villa.

Beans and chili

Rosemary, parsley and Lemon tree.

Do you have a garden or an allotment? What do you grow in it? Have you faced the challenge of gardening in the desert and planting directly into the sand?

Saturday, 18 March 2017

One Daily Positive - Week 11. Going forward

The week has been spent preparing for job interviews, packing for the UK, ironing, blogging and working out for from the 20 odd emails, exactly what date Ikea are delivering my order to our apartment in the UK, so I can arrange for my sister to take delivery and my Nephew in law to assemble the items for me. I found out on Wednesday I didn't get the interview with The FA. It's been 6 years since I last worked in Child Welfare and so much has changed.

Sunday was all about cleaning and tidying the house, filling in forms for an interview as a Life Skills Teacher in the UAE, food shopping as well as the obilitory visit to a coffee shop.

Monday after doing a batch cook, I walked Bob to the vets for one final visit, all healed and no cone needed anymore. I finally tidied up the sewing room and sorted through some old photo discs. I visited Rory, took my book and a pack lunch so after a long walk she could just sit outside on the grass with me and be in the fresh air. I called in to visit a friend on the way home.

Tuesday and an unexpected trip to Dubai Mall to collect Peter's watch from repairs. The shops don't open till 10am, so I batched cooked for the rest of the week, had coffee and by the time I'd collected the watch, top left of the Mall and shopped in Waitrose, bottom right it was 1pm before I got home. I spent the rest of the day in bed with a migraine.

Wednesday I took Peter to the airport for 6am as he's working in Saudi until tomorrow and took Rory for a walk. I then went to the police station to have my finger prints taken for South Africa police clearance and obtained a 'Good Conduct Certificate for my time to date in Dubai, ready for a job interview. It's Plantation week in Dubai, so I collected a boot full of free plants from the Municipality before heading over to the opposite side of Dubai with Bob for a sleep over, pub quiz (which we won) dinner and a few beers.

Thursday, Bob and I got home mid morning, the cat was not impressed. After a quick hoover and mop of the house and sticking a wash on, I unloaded Peter's car of the plants and spent a couple of hours in the garden washing the sand off everything, furniture, lights, walls, windows. I need to level the sand pit off and then I can plant the new trees, shrubs and ground cover. I took Peter's car to be valeted and stopped off for my obligatory coffee. I also had a late lunch/very early dinner and was in my PJ's at 5pm, bored out my brain. Peter was home at midnight, I waited up for him listening to Five Live and doing the ironing.

Friday I headed out to the desert now Bob's wounds are clean and then we cleaned out the maids/storage room, as something has obviously died in there at some point judging by the smell.  it turns out one of the workmen had used the loo in there for a poo and there is no water to the toilet and they just left it. It's not the first time we've had issues with this, our gardener in South Africa was banned from our bathroom. We also had our eyes tested, Peter needs glasses for long distance and short distance, but requires 2 different pairs for each activity.

Saturday my brain was a whirl as I've got so much to do. Peter flies to Pakistan for the week, all my plans to take the week slowly, pace myself have gone out the window when he reminded me I'm off to the UK two days after he gets back, how did that come round so quickly? We went out for breakfast and I made a start putting the new plants in place, it's not easy digging holes in sand, as they fill in as quickly as you dig them.

71/365 Future - Job hunting.

72/365 Doors - going round and round in circles.

73/365 Sharp (for some reason I thought the prompt today was straight lines)

74/365 Blank.

75/365 Powerful

76/365 Green

77/365 That's Incredible!

On the blog this week:
My Sunday Photo - F is for Future
Family Life and #PoCoLo- It's OK to be bored
HDYGG, Monday Escapes and Travel - The Winter Palace, Luxor
Triumphant Tales - Parenting Highlights
Tweens, Teens and Beyond - The gentle art of persuasion with kids

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Winter Palace, Sofitel. Luxor

We spent 4 days in Luxor in January. Peter had spent the weekend there at a conference and I decided to join him for the weekend. We last visited Luxor in 2008 and as you'd expect not a lot has changed other than the alarming decline in the economy after the revolution in 2010.

We visited the temples and the Valley of the Kings as we'd done previously. On this trip our hotel was central to the main part of the city so we explored a bit further on foot, rather than whizzing past places in a taxi.

Struggling to find anywhere that served a decent cup of coffee we decided to visit the Winter Palace to try our luck there. We will definitely be staying their on our next trip, it was splendid. I think the reason we hadn't looked at this hotel is because it's not on the Nile and a Nile view is something to behold when you look across in the early mornings and see the balloon flights and can sit on the banks in the evening enjoying a drink watching the sunset.

The Winter Palace was built in 1886 and now owned by Sofitel part of the Accor group. It is where Howard Carter stood on the steps to announce the find of Tutankhamen's Tomb to the world.

Since then many other famous celebrities and heads of states have visited, including Agatha Christie who wrote 'Death on the Nile' while she was a guest there in 1937. But sadly the hotel from the front does not hold the appeal of luxury travel as it would've done in it's glory days.

The red carpet was out, but has seen better days and the paint was flaking on the outside of the building. The reception hall hadn't been modernised and that was lovely to see how it would've been back in the day.

However all the flaws were forgiven the second we stepped out onto the terrace. The gardens were spectacular and it took me a while to see the additional accommodation buildings, with balconies and an amazing outdoor pool and restaurant area.

View from the terrace

Looking back

New accommodation and pool, viewed from the restaurant.
The garden was full of trees, cacti and succulents.

Living in Dubai, I miss seeing trees everywhere, although there are palm trees and native trees in the UAE, they are not as tall and as spectacular as the trees here in Luxor.

The tress and plants were labelled to help with identification, which country they were brought in from and the date they were planted.

The gardens were empty and we sat in blissful silence drinking our coffee, which was OK and then enjoyed a stroll around the gardens, in addition to the trees there was a small aviary and lenity of places one could sit and just in quiet for a while.