Tuesday 12 March 2013

Happy Times

Things are going pretty well for me at the moment. Work contract just renewed, project looks like it'll start making some progress shortly, the days are getting longer and I just got awarded elite membership on yelp.co.uk. Oh and I'm going skiing again this Saturday.

I've also been seeing an adorable girl from Russia. Now you may or may not know this, but 8 March is International Womens Day which is a big deal in Russia, so for the weekend I organised a trip to France via eurotunnel for dinner, and some flowers of course. The journey to the eurotunnel was smooth but I can report that the outlet warehouse on the other side is pretty rubbish. At least it is at this time of year. We had intended to go to the Atlantic Liegois Gastronomic Restaurant in Wimereaux (which it turns out, sounds like the word for extinction in Russian), but they were fully booked, so we ended up walking around the town like Mary and Joseph looking for a barn to stay in. We eventually found a lovely place called 'La Vie Est Belle' which was delicious :)

Friday 22 February 2013

American not-so-Express

So I got a new American Express card a month or so ago. One of those British Airways ones that collects avios points as you spend.

They had this offer where you get 9000 bonus avios if you spend £1000 on the card.

So I proceeded to spend on it the way I do on my Nationwide card and they block me suspecting fraud.

On my Nationwide card (which incidentally has double the limit of the AmEx and is accepted in more locations) they phone me within a couple of minutes if they block a transaction.

Does that happen with AmEx? Nope. Nothing... you get told you have to call the number on the back of the card, and after calling it and pressing 50 buttons to get to the department that isn't automated and has a person on the end of the line, you get told the card is blocked, they can't access the system to even register a complaint, and all they can do is suggest you call tomorrow and note that you called and request a call back from the department who blocked it.

So I called the next day, only to be told that their fraud prevention mechanism is this:

1. They suspect identity theft on your account and block your account without trying to contact you.
2. They wait for you to contact them after you've been embarassed wherever you're paying for goods or services.
3. They tell you there's nothing you can do.
4. You call back the next day and they tell you they will try to call you back on your phone number that they will have verified using some secret verification process and if they can't verify your phone or get through to you they will send you a letter by post with a reference number on it.
5. I point out that if they suspect identity theft, surely sending a letter to the same address that the supposed identity thief got the card from is a pointless exercise because the would-be thief would just get the reference number as well.
6. They kind of agree but you can tell they aren't allowed to say they do.
7. Instead of getting a call or a letter, they email me with the reference number. I actually prefer this method, but it's not what they said they would do.
8. I call up and go through the security which amounts to nothing more than them just noting the reference and telling me it will be unlocked shortly.
9. They tell me they are unable to take my complaint and I should speak to customer services.

This is after the following other stupid problems:

1. When you sign up for an account, they insist you have a number in your USERNAME. WTF? Who insists on a number in the username? Are they on crack?
2. When I tried to change my PIN, the cash machine told me it had failed. I called them and they said they found a problem, and I should try again. I tried again and it gave me a different error. Magically the new pin was the one that showed on the website but actually using the card required the old PIN. That's sounds like a fail of security (again) to me.
3. The paywave function didn't work on the card. Ever. So they had to send me a new card, within a month of getting the card in the first place.

I've never had to make so many phone calls to a single organisation before.

Should have applied for the platinum card. Maybe then I'd have had better service...

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Organising Groups

Here are some rules to consider when trying to organise group trips:

1. If you offer people a choice, you will never come to any kind of agreement.
2. Assuming its too late not to offer a choice, prepare for a huge headache as you try to please everyone and accommodate their obscure requirements.

The result of offering people a choice on my last trip is that it ended up costing more than it needed to, but because I am a badass I've managed to arrange flights and accommodation such that we will get 8 days on the slopes and not have the pain of a Eurostar trip.

We'll be returning to Sauze d'Oulx where we will hopefully have a little more snow than last year.

It should be a good trip, and will be the last of my long holidays until Christmas...

I'll write more later, and the gossip will be a lot more juicy if things go well!

Meanwhile here's a photo of an awesome sunset :)

Friday 15 February 2013

To ski, or not to ski

I had a fairly busy January. The first random tidbit of information is the £1070 BMW 330i touring that I bought on ebay. This proved to be a bit of a logistical problem, as the car was located just outside Edinburgh and I am in London. Having agreed to pick up the car at Edinburgh airport, I promptly booked a flight to go up there on morning, with the intention of driving back down the same day. I mentioned this to a friend when asked what I was up to at the weekend, and instead of me driving, she went up to Edinburgh with a friend and drove it back, Thelma & Louise style. I flew up too, but unfortunately on picking up the car it wasn't the bargain I thought it would be. It was in pretty bad condition and was suffering from a number of problems including the speedometer not working correctly. It's in the garage now, being seen to :)

We also had an epic ski trip to Peisey-Vallandry. A little resort in the Les Arcs/La Plagne ski area close to the main lift that links the two areas together. In a similar vein to my last skiing related post, here is a list of lessons learned:

1. People you think will make the best flatmates sometimes make the worst.
2. The upgrade to first class on eurostar is only worth it if you're the only one doing it. Too many people, especially too many large and loud people, completely negate any benefit.
3. Some people can behave very childishly, often without even realising it.
4. The people you often think are the most level headed, can become the most crazy given a few drops of alcohol.
5. It is a stupid idea to try and transport a 40kg snowboard bag with lots of equipment in a single bag.
6. It is a stupid idea to take 40kg of equipment for a one-week holiday.
7. Don't roll down a snowy hill without first inspecting the other side of it.
8. Happiness comes from pleasing yourself, not pleasing others.
9. Snowboarding on ice moguls shortly after a fresh layer of snow has fallen is not a nice experience.
10. Snowblading on sheet ice is ill-advised.
11. The Ruroc helmet range has a dangerous design flaw rendering the helmet rather useless.
12. The group discount on a Paradiski area ski pass for 8 days is about £50.
13. It is a stupid idea to try and walk down a hill that is covered in sheet ice without impact protection.
14. Bourg St Maurice is a very boring place on a Saturday night.
15. Leaving behind a messy apartment makes it very unpleasant when you get home.
16. Snowboarding on hard packed pistes gets boring after a while.
17. My skiing has considerable room for improvement.
18. A powder day can lift even the darkest mood :)

My last ski trip filled me with mixed emotions. It was very stressful, and one of my friends isn't talking to me anymore after I called her a stupid child. In my defence she'd been behaving quite childishly all week, and snapping at me all the time. I snapped back on the last day, and the fact that she's not talking to me proves my point.

My next trip is proving quite stressful too, and I haven't booked it yet. That's because of different people having a variety of requirements that are difficult to accommodate. If it keeps up I will just book a holiday for two and go without them.

For next year, I am going to make inquiries about chartering a plane. That would be so cool :)

Monday 7 January 2013

Happy New Year!

I've done a fair bit of driving the last couple of weeks (about 1400km). Here's a list of lessons learnt, mostly for your amusement...

1. It doesn't matter how early you leave, you are not driving fast enough to get to the airport on time if there's a car keeping up with you.
2. The collision damage excess waiver on an Audi A4 Avant is 300€, and is a waste of money.
3. Hire car companies will remove the navigation CD from a navigation equipped car just so they can charge you to rent a navigation off them.
4. It costs the same amount to rent snow chains for a week as it does to buy them from a random motorway service station.
5. Snow chains are recommended in certain circumstances if driving to a ski resort on all-season tyres, however with a bit of forethought (usually spurred on by hindsight) they aren't necessary. In fact I'd go as far as saying people are mad going on about having to get winter tyres and being stuck in the snow.
6. The highest rated navigation software on the iTunes store has no concept of mountain passes being closed in the winter and turned into skiing pistes.
7. Neither does the Garmin navigation system my friend brought along.
8. At 39€ the Frejus tunnel is pretty expensive.
9. Whilst the French will build scary roads that follow the curvature of the mountains, the Italians just build viaducts and dig tunnels resulting in a straight motorway that goes through everything in its path.
10. Italians are mad drivers, especially on the motorway.
11. An Audi A4 loaded with 5 passengers and their luggage handles like a boat and steers only slightly better than the Titanic.
12. The cruise control on Audis is really confusing.
13. The Audi A4 is rubbish and I am soooo glad I bought a BMW instead of an A5 convertible.
14. Although the Audi A4 is crap, it does have a much smoother ride and lighter steering than my BMW, which I only really noticed upon my return to London.
15. Watch out for speed cameras in France, especially when you reset your navigation to default settings in a futile attempt to get it to direct you through the Frejus tunnel instead of over a ski piste. Twice.
16. There is an admin fee for changing your flight on easyjet.
17. If you purchased speedy boarding, you lose it when your flight is changed, and you only find out when you're at the front of the speedy boarding queue and the guy has a go at you for not having speedy boarding.
18. Don't forget you bought speedy boarding when arriving at the airport and queuing with the plebs.
19. There is a bit of road between Turin and Milan where you're driving pretty fast and a train passes you as if you're standing still.
20. Don't go shopping with girls in Milan during the sales.
21. It costs £15 per day extra when you're late for picking up your car from Gatwick airport valet parking.
22. Don't forget the mess you made at home in your rush to pack for your ski trip at the last minute.
23. Although O2 text you telling you that for £1.99 per day you can use your phone abroad as you would at home, the next day they will text you a warning telling you that yesterday you used 70MB and your limit was 25MB and if you do it again they will put you back on the standard tariff. This is more annoying than not having data at all.
24. There is absolutely nothing to do at Milan Malpensa Terminal 1 when waiting 8 hours for a delayed flight from Moscow to arrive, apart from marvel at the variety of taxis waiting at the taxi rank outside. Everything from a Dacia Duster to a Citroen C6 to a BMW 1-series.
25. The French don't know how to make coffee, especially in fancy looking motorway service stops.
26. The Italians do know how to make coffee, even in really dodgy looking motorway service stops.
27. The flat fare from anywhere in Milan to Malpensa airport is 90 euros. Whilst this may seem excessive, it is a 45-60 minute drive, depending on traffic conditions.
28. The closest petrol station to Malpensa is a dodgy and super expensive automated place that has a machine which accepts only cash pre-payment for fuel. It's still cheaper than returning the car without a full tank.
29. The GPS on the iPhone is not fast or accurate enough to give good driving directions in complicated junctions, due to the 2 second sampling interval. Only a fool forgets the two second rule!
30. The french for breathalyser is ethylotest. Don't forget that from next spring if you're not carrying a reusable one (or two disposable ones) while driving in France you can get an on the spot fine.

This New Years Eve was a bazillion times better than last year, and 2012 was really awesome for me. Let's hope 2013 is even better. It's got off to a fabulous start anyway :)