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Published: June 26th 2017
It was raining heavily today as we waited for the taxi. If you scroll through the opening blog for most of our other trips you will notice that raining heavily is what it seems to do when the Hodgsons are off on one of their trips. Whether in the midst of winter of mid-summer. Come autumn or spring it is guaranteed to 'piss down' on day one!!
Yesterday when checking the hand luggage I asked Roisin for the travel documents. Expecting a few sheets of A4, I was surprised when she held up a bundle of papers that could easily have passed for the briefing documents of O J Simpson's defence!! There were the e-tickets for the train to London, the tickets for the Heathrow express, the tickets for the flight. Hotel reservation, car hire whilst in Cape Town, cruise check in docs, return flights from Venice to Gatwick and as we arrive at an awkward time, car hire docs from Gatwick. As well as these there were also various insurance documents that made up this bundle that practically doubled the weight of my hand luggage!!
With mentioning Cape Town and Venice, two beautiful cities separated by thousands of
miles, you may have guessed that we are back in cruise mode. We are flying to Cape Town via Johannesburg. After 3 days we will then board the MSC Sinfonia for twenty two nights. Of these, fourteen of them will be spent at sea. We will be calling at Namibia (Walvis Bay) then seven continuous days at sea before Dakar in Senegal. Gran Canaria is our next stop followed by Tangier in Morocco, Malta, Dubrovnik and Ancona before arriving at our disembarkation port of Venice where we fly home. We will cross the equator but as we are fully fledged ‘shellbacks' we can sit and relax whilst watching the pollywogs
go through an initiation ceremony where they will have to ‘kiss the fish' at the Feast of Neptune!!
During our last trip Roisin had told the taxi driver that we were going to London where we intended to see Guys n'Dolls. This time we were off to Winchester for a wedding. We were accompanied by a large and medium size suitcase together with a suit bag. This added a little bit of credence to our story. We also explained our seemingly oversized cases as containing presents for the happy
couple. Thinking about it, the taxi driver lifted our cases in to the cab so must have been thinking: ‘what have you bought them? Led crystal vases made from pure lead??!!' Instead he smiled and just said: ‘Oh, I see! I thought you were going away for a month!!' I just smiled back and thought: Bloody Hell! He's good!!
Our taxi driver was indeed ‘good'. As he took our first case from me to load in to the cab, he started off by apologising as the fare will be a little more expensive today being a bank holiday. On arriving at Runcorn train station the taxi driver helped us with our luggage out of the rain in to the entrance to the station. The fare came to £11. I always tip taxi drivers, especially for a ‘good' service' so I was surprised when, handing him £20 as I asked him to take £13, he questioned my generosity by saying ‘Are you sure?'
This is the first time I've embarrassed a taxi driver with offering a gratuity!! Whilst we waited in the station foyer, the driver dashed back to his cab to fetch my change. He handed me a note
and some coins then rushed back to his cab to get out of the rain. On inspecting my change I had a £5 note and four £1 coins. He didn't even feel humbled enough to take a tip. Either he's not been doing the job long or it is an early onset of altzeimers!!
The trip to London was uneventful. On arriving at Euston we walked to Euston Square where we took the underground to Paddington to pick up the Heathrow Express. Fifteen minutes later, from the centre of London we were pulling in to Terminal 3.
As we are travelling premium economy on arriving at the Virgin Atlantic check in desk a very polite usher directed us to a series of desks where in no time at all we were handing our passports over to the check in desk assistant. Although having already chosen our seats, we prefer the bulk head seats. These are the ones at the front of the cabin. They are usually reserved for people with disabilities or families with small children. For this reason it is not possible to reserve these seats on line. As Roisin asked the question. The young male assistant
said: ‘I'll check now'.
His lips formed the words but no sound came from his mouth!! After a few more minutes of tapping away at his terminal he moved his hands in a sequence that involved him touching his head and wiggling his fingers. At the same time it looked like he was talking in rhythm with the flapping of his hands. I then realised he wasn't having a seizure but this man was either deaf or dumb or both!! Roisin, though, seemed to have the whole thing under control.
‘OK! Thanks for that. We will'
she said. We will what?
More keyboard tapping then the check-in assistant looked up. More mouthing words and coupled with sign language. If anyone was looking at us they would have thought that the check in counter is no place to have a crafty game of charades!! He mimed writing something then pointed to the passport. I was going to shout out ‘Is it a book?' But Roisin was in da zone. ‘No, we don't need one. We are on a one way flight then cruising back to Europe'
Roisin said. ‘From Venice…cruising back to Italy'.
more sign language and then Roisin reached inside my hand luggage for the bundle when she promptly showed the assistant our papers for the cruise and our flight booking from Venice back to the UK. The assistant appeared to study these papers, looked up and then gave us the thumbs up'. Not wanting to be an ignoramus I waited until we were on the way to security before I learned from Roisin that Robert, our check-in assistant was asking to see our visa as we only had a one way ticket. As it turns out, travellers from the UK on vacation don't require a visa to visit South Africa. This was a bizarre, first time experience. All I can say is that this assistant must have given one hell of a performance at his job interview!!!
Robert certainly came up with the goods. At boarding we were shown to the two bulk head seats. This gave us that extra leg room that was much appreciated on this ten hour and nine minute flight. Nine minutes??! How do these people calculate the times? Why couldn't it be ten hours or even ten hours and ten minutes??
Our aircraft was
called Miss Chief and was a Dreamliner. These planes are renowned for mood lighting. We boarded the plane to a pleasant neon blue. During the flight the mood lighting changed to a soothing violet. As least I felt calm and relaxed which is more than can be said for the baby somewhere off towards the middle of the plane. It was a 2-4-2 configuration and had great acoustics!! Not long after take-off dinner was served. A choice of lasagne, chicken with cous cous or gnocchi. This was served with either white or red wine. There was a wide variety of entertainment. I had to choose between Matt Damon in the Martian,
Tarentino's the Hateful Eight
or Alvin and the Chipmunks!!
I decided to watch The Hateful Eight.
SPOILER ALERT: After two hours fifty of gratuitous violence and the usual Tarentino trademarks, everyone ended up dead!! Job done! It was lights out for all of us as the aircraft settled down whilst we continued to zoom through the night.
We arrived at Johannesburg International airport at 8am local time having left London at 8pm. Despite being 6000 miles from London, South Africa is currently 1 hour in front of the UK.
Our connection through to Cape Town was not due to depart until 1pm. At check in we were told that we can't check our luggage in until 11am. However, as we are travelling business class for this leg of the journey would could make use of their lounge until it was time to check in. At the business class lounge we were then informed that we can only use the business class lounge once we have cleared security and the lounge we were in at the moment is only for those travellers arriving from South African destination. However, the assistant was willing to make a concession and let us in, just this once!! How many times does she think there will be??
The leg from Jo'berg to Cape Town took a very comfortable two hours where we were both fed and watered again and managed to snatch 40 winks. The landscape that covered most of the 800 miles between the two cities was extremely flat. It was only during the last ten minutes that the scene changed to a rockier vista. On our approach, as the plane veered and steadied itself for the run in, there it was. The iconic table mountain dominating the sky line. Apart from the characteristic flat plateau that is the summit of Table Mountain, there was also a pointy bit that rose higher than the table top which I don't remember seeing from the photos and the TV.
Although the authorities are clamping down, there are still unauthorised taxi drivers that tout for business at the airport. Our research told us that Touchdown Taxis are the only approved taxi firm allowed to serve Cape Town airport and the fare would cost the equivalent of between £12-15. Sure enough we met with no touts and on approaching the Touchdown desk (hassle free!), we were allocated a driver and 25 minutes later we were checking in to our hotel.
The journey had seen us take a taxi, train, underground, another train, plane, shuttle bus, another plane and finally another taxi. Despite having been travelling for 28 hours we both felt it was a good journey with the flights especially being as comfortable as we could hope. Our host has already made us feel at home. Our room is spacious with a balcony. The late autumnal nights command a balmy 68 degrees F and we paid less than £20 for dinner including drinks. When our biggest complaint is the unusually oversized three rounded pin plug sockets that no universal adaptor incorporates, I think Cape Town and we are going to get along just fine!!!
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