Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Caribbean Adventure Aboard Azura.

On the 28th October we had booked to be aboard Azura on a P&O Cruises repositioning cruise to the Caribbean for it's Winter season there. We found things extremely well organised, and after having left our car at Manchester Airport Terminal 1 Meet and Greet ready for our flight home, we boarded a complementary luxury coach to Southampton.

Sailing off into the Southampton sunset. 
Once there, we were whisked aboard Azura through the Ocean terminal and were eating lunch aboard by 12.45pm. After unpacking we went on our usual exploration of this very beautiful but very large ship, before setting sail for Ponta Delgada in the Azores later that evening, which was a port of call to break up our long Atlantic crossing.

Azura's fabulous atrium.
Azura's Seascreen - an outdoor screen for watching movies in the warm weather.
Ponta Delgada
We love the opportunity to dress up - some don't. My advice is book a cruise line with a casual dress code then!
Unusually good weather for an Autumn Atlantic crossing.

On arrival in the Caribbean, our first port of call was the beautiful island of St. Maarten. The weather throughout our cruise has been lovely sunshine until lunchtime, and then heavy rain in the afternoon, similar to monsoon. However our Atlantic crossing was unusually calm for this time of year. We also had the experience of our Peninsular Loyalty Club cocktail party during our crossing, as well as our chance to dress up for the 4 black tie evenings.

Meeting the Captain and senior officers at the loyalty club cocktail party.

Leaving St.Maarten we sailed for St. Lucia, another beautiful island, with a call at the port town of Castries although we have been before, so used our time there this time to catch up with lovely narrow boating friends Doug and James of Narrowboat Chance, who by chance had booked the same cruise as us. A truly fabulous catch-up chat fuelled by countless bottles of the local brew followed. I do believe we drank the bar dry of stock and possibly stayed beyond our welcome as the shopping mall it was located in was all closed up when we left and we had to use the back door.

Berthed in St. Lucia.
Together with the lovely Doug and James in St. Lucia.
We sailed from Castries to Dominica, a very small island at which we just had a walk around town.

Our berth in Dominica.
Our next visit was Grenada, and the port town of St. Georges, a lovely little town with much history. From the ship we walked through the Sendall Tunnel, built in 1844 through the headland to the harbour next door where we visited BB's Restaurant which had been recommended for their famous ginger beers. They were truly lovely, and the menu also looked tempting, but unfortunately, being on a cruise we didn't find ourselves hungry enough to sample it. The place is certainly worth a try if you find yourself here. We also shared our port visit in Grenada with P&O Cruises' latest ship Britannia, on which were also friends of ours who we shared drinks with in the afternoon.

Britannia and Azura berthed together in Grenada.

The excellent ginger beers served at BB's in St. Georges, Grenada.
From Grenada it was off to our last port of call - Bridgetown, Barbados, where we were lucky enough to have a full day to look around town, as we were spending the night aboard ship there prior to our flight home the day after.

Azura at her berth in Bridgetown, Barbados.

There is a huge choice of entertainment aboard P&O Cruises, both during the day and evening. From talks and quizzes to murder mystery interactive adventures during the day to show lounge bands and comedians and the theatre where spectacular West End style shows are staged, there is something for everyone. If that doesn't appeal there is a traditional pub where large screen sport is screened, through to sophisticated wine bars - the choice is yours. Huge efforts are also made by the crew to celebrate events such as the Halloween party on the final day of October.

Saturday arrived all too soon, after our 15th night aboard. We had packed our luggage the night before and P&O Cruises had placed our cases into bonded storage prior to loading on to the aircraft on our behalf, saving us the trouble. We were transported to the airport without fuss, where we boarded our Thomas Cook A330 Airbus back to Manchester. Our scheduled seven and a half hour flight landed half an hour early, and we were soon outside with our luggage at the T1 Meet and Greet Reception office. Our car was ready and waiting, and we were at home and in bed by 6.00am on Sunday.

What an extremely enjoyable experience and what great value for money. My only criticism would be that some of P&O's customers - a minority, didn't want to bother to change for the evening, and could be seen in the public areas of the ship in vest and shorts during the evenings. This doesn't even meet with P&O's relaxed evening casual dress code, which is a minimum of casual shirt, slacks or dark denim fashion jeans. Is this too much to ask? I think not.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Let Down By UK Contractors Again!

We have been putting the house through some much needed updates and refurbishment. We had it built in 1984, and haven't done much to it since. We have installed two new bathrooms, a new kitchen, and a new back fence amongst this work. One last job we decided to undertake was to improve the driveway. Over 30 years it had sunk considerably, and we also now would like to increase its width.

In order to do this we embarked on the usual methodology of inviting specialist contractors to attend and quote. We did this during May this year - 2016. Some showed an interest, then didn't attend, another attended, spent an hour measuring up, left and we never saw him again. We ended up with two quotes, but one of those companies did not publish their address details on their website or quote - just an 0800 telephone number. This immediately caused suspicion of who I might be dealing with.

We awarded the work - not at all cheap - to a local company who had a professional looking website, and had 80 4.5* - 5.0* reviews on a review site that says it always checks the reviewers are genuine by verifying their details before publishing their review. This contractor also published his business address. He pointed out that he had work already booked in that would last 6 months, so could only start our driveway to our agreed specification within his quote, on the 19th September. We agreed, as being busy also seemed to confirm a reputable company.

The 19th September arrived with no sign of the contractor - he apologised and said he had been very busy, but would start work the next Monday the 26th. That came and went with no sign of a start. This time his digger had broken down! Unfortunately we now had an appointment in London, and I informed him he would have to start work on our return - to which he replied he would have our drive completed for our return home **ALARM BELLS**.

Undeterred, we went ahead, because our very good neighbour agreed to keep me informed about what was occurring while we were away. It transpired that the digging out had been contracted out, and his brief did not match the depth required for our agreed foundations. I rang my contractor again and put this to him. His excuse this time was he had farmed our whole job out to a "friend". He was sacked on the spot, as it then became apparent that our driveway was scheduled to be laid on no foundations at all other than what was already under the existing drive, and which we had discussed at length back in May were not suitable as the old drive had sunk. So what do you do when faced with a mess like this.......

Research the way it should be done and do it yourself!

The digger contractor had done a very good job - so we started from there. I used internet calculators to ascertain what materials we required to do what was needed and ordered 10 tonnes of MOT hardcore, 3 X rolls of geo-textile matting, 6 X Concrete border slabs, 40 brick blocks to be used to segregate the drive from the service strip, 2 X bags of cement and 6 X bags of sand. We got to work.

One of the tools I needed for this job was a compactor whacker plate. As my job would take some time, I decided against hiring and plumped for this at just under £200.....

Click here to view the Evolution Hulk Electro compactor plate.

As it turned out this machine is brilliant at what it is supposed to do, and at the price, a bargain.

The foundations were put down in layers, compacting between each one. Half way through the brick and concrete slabs were set in, before completing the foundation layer, compacted solid.

When this was complete 4 tonnes of red granite aggregate and 1 tonne of green granite aggregate was purchased to finish, again whacked in once spread.

We are very pleased with the results of our labour, and at a fraction of the cost the driveway "specialist" contractor wanted for what would have been sub-standard work if we hadn't been vigilant. How long did this take us? Just one week all finished.

I have said it before when a marina "ripped us off" with so called specialist work that later being found to be sub-standard resulted in the loss of our narrowboat - if you want a job done properly - DO IT YOURSELF!