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Planes, trains and engine failure  

A little after 5am Friday morning last week when I arose somewhat dazed from bed and made final preparations for a trip to Prague. My sister is getting married in July and my future brother-in-law was kind enough to invite me along to his stag night.

We arrived at the airport for our 7am flight to London Gatwick and I was introduced to two of the guys, Glen H and Michael Knight… Within minutes local airline Aurigny had announced an hour delay to our flight because of fog. Fog is a regular problem here and when it occurs planes are not allowed to land, despite the landing guidance systems in place, for reasons best known to the airport. There are few flights out from Guernsey and even fewer destinations means being fogged equals missing your connecting flight and there goes your holiday. Fog coming back means sitting or sleeping at Gatwick and explaining your absence to friends, family, or boss.

Only one flight made it in and the fog showed no signs of lifting. Our flight jumped from delayed to cancelled which in airline terms appears to mean “screw you, we’ve got your money and we’re not taking you anywhere”. A quick trip to the Aurigny desk confirmed the afternoon flights were full even if the fog does lift, the same situation mirrored at Fly Be

A few phone calls later and we’re at the harbor joining a massive queue of fellow airline passengers at Condor Ferries trying to grab seats on the ferry to Poole. Luckily we’d got through on the mobile and managed to reserve some tickets at an outrageous £60 per person with Aurigny offering zip towards it from our cancelled flights. Some people couldn’t get on the full boat and angry words were uttered from down turned lips. We wouldn’t make our EasyJet flight to Prague so we called them and managed to transfer bookings to a later flight at 6pm…

Having explained to a large bunch of northern lads they were in our seats and yes, our bags weren’t there but they were ours, seat allocations printed on tickets and no we didn’t know where H29 through 34 were we sat down and munched on breakfast comforted in knowing we were now on our way.

The comfort was short lived when our captain explained the failure of one of the engines… It came back to life before we got into Poole but this, the delay leaving and the disaster of baggage collection meant we now had zero chance of meeting our EasyJet flights. We called the rest of the party in Prague and let them know the stag would be absent from the first night’s activities :( Another call to EasyJet and we transferred to the following days 8:15am flight…

Having stopped for a bite to eat we jumped on a train, the first bit of good luck so far in that they were a. all on time and b. offering 50% discount for our route on some offer. We arrived in Gatwick and got ourselves setup in a local hotel and then headed to the bar. On reflection this was quite a mistake because we had to be up at 5:30am and in the end went to bed after 2am. We trotted off to EasyJet only to find the stag himself was the only person booked on the flight. Melissa, Melinda or whatever her name was from the night before had messed up our transfer :( Another guy transferred us, somewhat unenthusiastically, to the flight and we were off through departures!!! Another half hour delay on the tarmac and then we were finally OFF!!! At last and against all odds.

We’d already been warned about taxi touts in Prague but we got a reasonable fixed price from a guy in a tie called Jan who also had a very nice car and told us plenty about the area and promptly delivered us to our hotel, situated right next to a beer factory. The beer in Prague is rather good and like most things there, quite cheap. Hence to say we drank quite a bit!

Prague is a beautiful city during the day. Magnificent buildings untouched by the ravages of the last world war combined with scenic lakes, small parks, trees and wonderfully clear skies and warm temperatures contrasted against the scattered communist era housing blocks on the outskirts on the city.

We soon met up with the rest of the bunch including the stags brother James, who was an captain stationed out in Iraq with the British army just a few months ago, and a few other guys from the UK including a couple from UK registrar Nominet. The stag was forced to wear a dress and handbag for the evening and we bustled him outside into the still broad-daylight where he attracted odd looks and wolf-whistles :D

We had a great time and as the sun set the city transformed into a much seedier side more reminiscent of Amsterdam and curiously ascent from my Lonely Planet guide to Prague dated 2003. Perhaps it’s something quite recent but there were plenty of bars, clubs and strip-clubs with touts in the streets trying to pull in customers.

It’s at this point things get a little vague. We had a great meal and some more beer, and went on a pub crawl. Michael had some minor bumps and scrapes caused by a trick on a stool and a camouflaged street post at groin height. We definitely ended up in an 80’s themed nightclub where the group got fragmented before I found myself outside alone with the stag drunk still wearing his dress but having now acquired white horns. We finally managed to locate the rest of the group and watched an interesting show ;-) before heading to a rather seedy bar. It was now 5am and a few of us were the worse for wear.

Two days of travel and three nights of minimal sleep took their toll and we checked out late the following morning before hitting the shops of Prague and finally relaxing in a park where a few guys took out little pedalo boats on the river. We thought we’d lost them but they stumbled back a bit later covered in what they were calling bridge-drip and tree.

The trip back was uneventful and we said goodbye to the other seven. Sleeping in Gatwick airport is a surreal experiment, most places were closed and it was deadly quiet at 1am but bustling by 5am making it more and more difficult to sleep. We checked in only to find Aurigny had now cancelled our flight after check-in because it had “gone technical”. We collected back our bags, Michael’s going AWOL in their possession and got checked in for another a few hours later. Within minutes that too had been cancelled and they finally gave us over to a more competent airline, FlyBe, who took the whole Aurigny flight on theirs at a moment’s notice. My thanks to them.

Aurigny did give me a £5 food voucher which I used at McDonalds to create a mega McFlurry. It was one-part ice-cream and several toppings. Smarties, Chocolate Orange, Rolos and Crunchie I think. It tasted like frozen liquid sugar. I perked up instantly and wondered if I was going to die from a sugar overdose, but I’m still here to write this so I guess not.

We got back 3pm Monday in end and I’d spent twice as long traveling as I had being at my destination. I don’t think I’ll do a trip less than 5 days again, it’s just not worth the hassle regardless of the destination. I fell asleep in my clothes at home by 6pm, awaking 7am Tuesday morning fresh from my 14 hour top-up sleep. For some reason I was shaking at my desk later that day. I’m not sure if it was the sleep or the sugar that caused it.

Have better luck traveling

[)amien

C&W Guernsey and short-code text messages  

Living in Guernsey requires you develop a thick skin with regards to availability of goods and services. Many a time you can find a great deal on-line only to find they won’t ship here or if they do they want to charge you £50 to get it here. And get used to phoning and emailing companies for your VAT back every time you order (such as for Amazon and Apple).

One such annoyance is the inability to use short-code text messages (SMS such as 604664 for Google SMS as well as the silly UK TV voting systems.

Well, straight from the offices of Cable & Wireless Guernsey:

“Thanks for your enquiry regarding SMS premium rate short code access. We cannot currently offer this service, but we are working on a solution to this and expect to be able to offer the service by late 2005.”

At least somebody is working on it :)

[)amien

Guernsey broadband services  

I want faster DSL…. 512KB just isn’t cutting it, I used to enjoy 2MB in Jersey… Let’s examine the pricing shall we…

  • 512 KB
    • Jersey Telecom 24.99
    • C&W Guernsey 26.99
  • 1 MB
    • C&W UK 24.99
    • Jersey Telecom 44.99
    • C&W Guernsey 149.99
  • 2 MB
    • C&W UK 29.99
    • Jersey Telecome 84.99
    • C&W Guernsey 189.99

Yes you could argue the C&W Gsy has better contention ratios but the fact is they don’t even offer a home service for anything above 512KB.

C&W Gsy have announced broadband upgrades… It sounds like they’ll be upping everybody to 1MB “for free”. In fact I think they are cutting the price for 512KB and introducing a 1MB service at the old price… and just upgrading everybody to make sure they don’t loose revenue.

[)amien