Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Batteries!


Vehicle batteries, (including the wet cell deep discharge leisure batteries), are fickle things!

The motorhome has been stored over the Winter exactly as per the manufacturer's instructions. Included in this process is battery maintenance where the onboard smart charger should be plugged in at least once a month to maintain both the leisure and vehicle batteries, and in theory prevent damage to them by not allowing a deep discharge. I followed this process to the letter.

I have now removed the motorhome from hibernation, and all appeared well. However, twice now since removing the shore power lead, I have found the vehicle couldn't be started after a few days due to a flat vehicle battery.

I intended to have everything serviced before the season, so yesterday as I took it to the garage to do this, I told them about this issue, and asked that the vehicle battery be replaced now as a matter of course - a preventative measure for the coming Summer if you like. It was obviously far from new.

The garage owner quite rightly offered to also test for the possibility of a fault that could be causing the discharge, and I readily agreed to that.

When I returned to collect the vehicle this morning I was informed that the electrical test for a possible discharge was negative, so all good there. He also said that the battery tested OK too, so they had left the old one in situ! That's all well and good, but doesn't get away from the fact that I have now arrived at the vehicle to start it twice now, and couldn't due to a flat battery.

Why can't trades just do as their customer asks? I have had previous experience of the fickleness of wet cell batteries that possibly test good, and then continue to give problems. So why didn't the "expert" carry out my wish at the outset to replace the battery with a new one? Surely a sale is a sale, and if I want a new battery I should have one whether they think it is required or not?

I suppose I should be grateful they didn't follow the example of a certain Cheshire marina I also entrusted maintenance work to, and drove it into the nearby Leeds and Liverpool Canal!

I had to leave the motorhome at the garage while a battery was ordered and fitted, and will now have to collect tomorrow. Another waste of time.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Destinasia Tours India

Viceregal Lodge, Shimla, Northern India.
Having recently completed a very successful and enjoyable tour of India which was arranged by a trusted associate of our daughter, Sachin Baurai. Based in Delhi I have been notified by him that he has now left the employ of the travel agent that he worked for and has started his own company as follows:

DestinAsia Tours And Travel PVT. LTD.

Having used Sachin to personally arrange tours for us on several previous occasions since 2011 we would recommend him to anybody who might be considering arranging their own visit to India, and wish him every success with his new venture.

His company contact email address is sales@destinasiatours.com

Monday, 20 April 2015

Kerala Backwaters - Houseboat Experience.

The backwaters of Kerala are a network of man made and natural canals that were historically built to provide the only transport available to the local population to bring produce to and from the ports. Although still playing a major part in the everyday lives of the locals, the canals are now also extensively used for tourism, with the rice boats that were once used for transport now reproduced to provide relaxing cruises, with overnight stays if desired, for tourists from across the world. Kerala Blog Express.



The locals call Kerala "God's Own Country". It is certainly a "Heaven on Earth", with varied attractions for the tourist from mountainous tea plantations to "paradise" beaches.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Introducing The Qatar Airways' A380.

Image from Qatar Airways website.
Our flight home from Kochi to Manchester was booked in three stages, first to Doha, then on to London Heathrow, and from there via a British Airways' shuttle to Manchester, some 17 hours travelling time from leaving our hotel in Kochi at 11.45pm local time on Tuesday to walking through the door at home at 6.30pm local time here on Wednesday. None of the flights used the type of aircraft we had booked - except the last courtesy of British Airways..

The first stage from Kochi to Doha was supposed to be a Qatar Airways A321 Airbus, but was in fact the much larger, four engined A340.

When we arrived at the departure gate in Doha, we were very pleasantly surprised to find our aircraft was a Qatar Airways' A380-800, not the planned A330.



We found this brand new aircraft to be silent, and bristling with technology designed to enhance passenger comfort. One aspect I made use of was wi-fi internet and mobile 'phone use once above an altitude of 10,000 feet. I posted on Facebook, with an image of our current surroundings from just over 40,000 feet! My internet package, paid for by debit card online while in the air was just $5 US, and the data lasted plenty of time to do as I wanted on my iPhone during the 7 hour flight. Other packages started at $10 US for unlimited data over three hours continuous use.


Details of this fabulous aircraft can be seen on Experience the Qatar A380 on Qatar's own website.

This was an unforgettable experience for anyone like me who holds the slightest interest in aircraft.

Our three week journey around India included 7 individual flights, two road trips, each of 5-6 hours in duration, and a trip on the Indian Railways Kalka to Shimla narrow gauge mountain line. Everything was well organized, and went without hitch - that is until we arrived on home territory at London Heathrow.

We made the transit across the airport from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 without any problem. Our checked in baggage was to go all the way through to Manchester from Kochi, and we were to board the British Airways 45 minute London to Manchester shuttle service, which was pleasant enough, with a somewhat rushed service of refreshments. I don't know why they bother on a 45 minute flight.

When we landed in Manchester, baggage was arriving on the carousel as usual, and after a short wait one of our two cases arrived with us. Then we waited, and waited, until it was announced that all baggage had now been processed.

Unfortunately there were still around 50 or so people still waiting at the carousel, just as we were. Yes - British Airways had left behind a whole container of baggage on the tarmac at Heathrow, and my case was amongst it. We joined the queue of angry passengers at the BA baggage desk. Some had arrived on business and only had the travelling clothes they were stood in.

To BA's credit, we filled in our claim form and left for home. The baggage was flown to Manchester on the next shuttle, and our case was couriered to our front door by 1.00 pm the next day. Unfortunately, I suspect that would be not a lot of help to the businessman in jeans and T shirt who was expected to give an important presentation on the evening of his arrival in Manchester at a swish hotel.

Unfortunate that it was down to our home country to mess up on the last lap.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ocean Princess Sails Into The Sunset.

Her next port is Mumbai. Images taken from the Malabar Hotel, Kochi 6.30 pm yesterday. In the past it has been us on the ship watching the Malabar Hotel disappear into the distance as we left Cochin.





Today marks the end of our 2015 bespoke tour of India, our fourth visit to this magnificent country. Our special thanks must again go to Sachin at http://www.elandholidays.com/ who has provided us yet again with a truly bespoke private holiday itinerary that was not only interesting, but ran completely to plan just like clockwork. Best of all, it was at a very reasonable price.

A Tuk Tuk Tour Of Fort Kochi

Yesterday I became aware that Ocean Princess would be docked today, and sure enough as we opened our bedroom curtains this morning this is the view that met us. There are implications when a cruise ship from a major international line lands in town, and they are not beneficial to the pocket. Taxi meters are turned off, prices have to be negotiated, and store price tags are all removed for the special ones reserved for cruise ship visits. With this in mind, yesterday morning I left Margaret by the hotel pool and wandered off down the road to the canteen where all the local tuk tuk drivers were gathered awaiting a small insignificant cruise ship that was about to put out its gangplanks.

I was really looking for an old friend who has given us pleasurable tours twice in the past, but the word on the street was that he had become indisposed only the day before, at the pleasure of the local judge :-) I spent an amusing hour with the guys taking chai with them and having a laugh, but crucially before I left, I negotiated a morning tour with an owner driver - remember the difference between khaki uniforms and plain clothes from previous posts? I negotiated that he would pick us up outside the hotel gates at 10 am this morning in his souped up Ferrari manufactured tuk tuk for an all in price of 400rps. That is ten times his average individual fare, but probably ten times less than a fare off one of the Americans from the cruise ship, had he been able to secure one. (The port authority only allows four tuk tuks at a time on the site of the cruise ship docking area, and they have to queue, sometimes for days, for a large prosperous ship).


We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of fried eggs, (real) bacon - Kerala is a mainly Christian state, new potatoes, beans and toast - the works ready for our day out, where lunch would probably be just fruit from the never ending bowl that is in our room.


After breakfast, at around 9.25 am we wandered outside awaiting our contracted time with the tuk tuk driver, taking these images that I have published before, but today's light was magnificent


RW, Brisbane! Do you remember this table by the pool from 2012? The same shot appears in one of my early 2012 posts with you sat there I believe.


And here is our new found tuk tuk pal Babu, sat with Margaret in the driver's seat of his Ferrari tuk tuk.


The full shot of the mean machine. It does 0-60 in 15 (minutes). Seriously though a tuk tuk tour is far better than a taxi here. They can get places other vehicles can't, and you get a real feel for the area.


First stop was to have a look at trans-shipment of rice between railway and road. Everything in India is labour intensive as there are plenty of willing participants. We could learn lessons here rather than paying folk to stay home in front of their mega flat screen TV then producing offspring for the state to support afterwards.


Babu took us into the beginnings of the backwaters, away from all the tourist areas. Above is a working fishing net, as opposed to the ones that are now there just for tourists in the town. These land fresh water fish, the ones in town are in sea water.


This is a small launch area for the small two man crew fishing boats that historically would be paddled, now powered by outboard motor.


Here we are at Kochi's Dhoby Khana or washhouse. All washing is done by males, finished by both men and women. They launder most of the hotel linen here as well as that from the local hospitals. Margaret is trying her hand. The iron is heated by burning coconut shell embers.



No washing pegs here. All linen is held in place by twisted rope.


Here is the local Hindu Temple. Unfortunately only Hindus can go inside.


Above is Santa Cruz Basilica, a Catholic Cathedral where we were welcome to go inside. And it was stunning - see below.




Now here we have the tourist fishing nets that are located in the centre of Fort Kochi. No longer used for commercial fishing, they earn their keep from tourists who, for a small fee are shown personally how they work, and even haul the boom up with them as we did. Unfortunately the image of that event is on Margaret's camera, which I can't access until we arrive home. Below is the link to several images taken by Babu that were put together as a short movie by Google+ on our return home.






Our last visit of the day was the Church of St. Francis. Built by the Portuguese in 1503, and was the location of Vasco de Gama's remains for a while before they were repatriated to his homeland by his son. The tomb remains to be seen today.

And that concludes a most enjoyable day. We are back by the pool now, writing this.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Vivanta By Taj Malabar Hotel, Cochin.

Last night our daughter flew out from Mumbai to return to London, and everyday life. It was a wrench to see her go, but she is now safely home. On the other hand we had chosen to fly again, our fourth individual flight out of a total of seven before we arrive home. We flew South to God's own country, the state of Kerala, Kochi, (Cochin), to be exact, to have a little extra pampering before we too leave India for home.


We had a choice of hotel. We have used the Taj group hotels in Cochin, Kumarakom, and Kovalam before. (The cover photo on my Facebook Page, for those who can see it, is of the swimming pool at Kovalam at sunset). They are all stunning hotels, but we like the Malabar the best, and we just keep coming back. There has been another well known couple who have stayed here in the recent past - November 2013 to be exact, the same year we last visited.....


Our journey down here went like clockwork again. This time we had arranged a driver from the Vivanta by Taj President Hotel to take us to the airport. This involved a little more luxury with cream leather seats and a uniformed driver. Check in went without hitch, and after an hour and a half in the air aboard another new Airbus Industries A320 owned by indigo, we made another smooth landing at Cochin. As last time we landed here, our pilot was a lady, and why not!

While waiting at the gate in Mumbai, we met a lovely family who were awaiting their own flight home to Varanasi. If you are reading this, first apologies for any spelling mistakes of Indian place names, then I hope the coin brings you good fortune!

On arrival at Cochin we picked up our cases and as we walked out into the hot sun, (36 degrees today), the travel agent walked over to us (the only Europeans on the flight), and introduced himself. He summoned his driver, and off we went (another air conditioned Toyota Innova).

Soon we were to be welcomed back to the Malabar in fine style, with drinks on arrival and a tour of the hotel. Everybody is treated like Royalty here.


After settling in we took our complimentary afternoon tea on the lawns overlooking the "lake", and later watched entertainment that had been laid on.



The hotel also offers a complimentary sunset cruise directly after the afternoon tea, where great views of the Chinese fishing nets can be taken in.





Our dinner choice tonight was outdoors in the BBQ, with various delicious meat, kebab and chicken platters. There are three other restaurants all offering their own delicious food genres.


In our opinion this is the best hotel in the world. And to date we have visited 305 Cities in 34 countries, 24% of the globe, to compare. (Statistics courtesy of my TripAdvisor account). Why? Because it offers supreme luxury in a friendly and informal way. Far better, again in our opinion, than the Palace hotels from the same group that we find to be too formal.









Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Queen Messed Up Our Plans!

Today's plan was to walk up Colaba Markets to the Gateway of India Plaza, then negotiate a taxi tour of all our favourite spots - Mani Bhaven, Gandhi's residence in Bombay, Banganga Tank - an ancient fresh water supply tank with religious overtones, Malabar Hill - the posh end of town, Jain Temple and the Hanging Gardens.


Taxi tip: The black and yellows are the very basic metered taxis with natural air conditioning, (open windows). Many of the old bangers have now been forced out of service by the authorities. Blue and silver taxis are air conditioned, better quality and more expensive. Drivers dressed in a khaki uniform are employed and are less flexible, ones in plain clothes are owner drivers and are more open to negotiation. The base meter rate is currently set at 21rps in the black and yellows, with most city venues accessible for around 50p. Outlying destinations around the city, no more than £2 equivalent. A full city sightseeing tour should not cost more than £5. Unless a fixed price journey, such as a tour has been agreed, always request the meter is reset on entering the taxi, if the driver refuses, their registration number is on the windscreen, note it, tell him he will be reported, get out and find another. Note that regulations are not as strict as you may be used to in your home country, so don't be surprised if the black and yellow cab you are about to climb into has four bald tyres. Most of the ones with holes in the floors are now gone. I last used one of those in 2012.


As we walked up Colaba it became obvious there were lots of European types in town, many displaying little yellow stickers bearing the number 13. I tried to start conversations with some, but they were reluctant to speak to me. (Perhaps they thought I was a local hawker in disguise). I eventually found a lovely Australian couple who were willing to enter into conversation with a stranger, who informed me that the Cunard cruise ship Queen Elizabeth was docked today. I passed on some advice in answer to their questions, and we decided to change our own plans.


Things were not good, as by coincidence I had chosen to wear my own P&O Cruises branded T shirt today, so we too were being pestered to buy goods at twice the normal price and more, and priced in US $ as well. Today was not a good day to negotiate a taxi tour.

We hopped in a metered black and yellow right there off Colaba and asked the driver to take us to Malabar Hill (120rps - around £1.30). From there we could walk around the Hanging Gardens, built on top of a fresh water supply tank for the City.....





Behind this hedge is the Parsi cemetery. It attracts lots of birds, as it is the Parsi custom to leave their deceased to decompose in the open air until there is nothing left. The birds quicken that process! http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakhma

A lovely young Indian couple on their own vacation stopped us to have their photo taken with us again. We feel like movie stars! I got the photo they wanted as well today.....


Visit The Jain Temple, just a short walk down the hill.....


Then a further short walk downhill to the Banganga Tank.....





From there it was another £1.30 taxi ride back to the hotel and to cool off by the pool. Today has been very hot sunshine.