Living With Our Rapido 963f Le Randonneur Motor Home.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

A Spring Round Trip Of Europe.

It was the last few days of April and our first planned trip of the year in the camper was looking a little damp. We drove South first to Deal in Kent to stay a couple of nights on Solley's, one of our favourite Caravan & Motorhome Club Certified Locations (a small area set aside for a maximum of 5 units usually part of a bigger business, such as a farm or garden centre). The weather was dire with driving rain, although it cleared a little for our short stay. Unfortunately, when it was time to depart the sideways driven rain was back again for our short journey to Folkestone where we had passage booked on the Channel Tunnel Shuttle. We arrived in good time, but were told of a three hour delay because of an electrical issue as a result of the weather. There was me being thankful we weren't booked on the ferry - but they were severely delayed too.

After the wait on the car park - at least we had our own facilities, our departure time came and we were effortlessly loaded onto the train, a first for us. In no time at all we were whisked across the channel where we again disembarked in the rain for the short drive to one of our favourite French campsites, Chateau Du Gandspette at Eperlecques. We were booked to stay the week here, and thankfully after our first night the weather turned to warm sunshine and blue skies. This site has a lovely bar and restaurant which we used frequently. There are also many interesting places to visit nearby, none more so than Le Blockhaus d'Eperlecques which is right next door.

Our week here came to an end, and still with fine weather now becoming very warm, it was time for our planned journey to the Moselle Valley which we also hoped to complete in the day. The European rural roads and motorways are fantastic to drive on as opposed to what we now have to put up with after years of little investment at home. They are clean, well maintained and importantly, free of traffic in the main. We arrived at another one of our favourite sites in Ellenz-Polterdorf in the wine making area alongside the Moselle. It is also directly opposite the picturesque village of Beilstein with a small ferry right next door, and just a few km outside Cochem where all the supermarkets can be found. This little place is Campingplatz Happy Holiday a lovely little site on the banks of the river and next to a cozy Imbiss (roadside Cafe and bar). It is also within walking distance of another Imbiss which deserves special mention here as the owner is so friendly but importantly serves the most delicious meals after a few cold beers, and all so casual. We walked here most evenings....Kalles Imbiss.

Our most enjoyable two weeks in Germany came to an end all too soon, and next we were off to The Netherlands for a week. We chose Witmarsum as the location of our first three days, and this was our lovely site.....Camping Mounewetter.

Then we were off across the 35km dyke taking us to the other side of the Ijsselmeer, to our final site Boerderij de Westert Mini Camping. This is located in Limmen and is on a working dairy farm. It was the most delightful site you would want to stay on with much interest around the farm, a short walk to nearby restaurants and great services. it is also just 16 miles from the centre of Amsterdam, so on the Saturday of our stay off we went on the very easy 40 minute train journey into the city where we met, by chance one of our Australian narrow boating friends Elli (ex Narrowboat Parisian Star), and her friend who were at the start of their own tour heading into Scandinavia. After a coffee with them off we went to explore the city on our own.

An evening at the lovely Chinese Restaurant Nieuw Hof in Limmen

This camper tour had been planned to be a round trip, so at the end of our week in Holland, we made the very easy journey to Rotterdam to take our place on the overnight P&O Ferry Pride of Hull - to Hull.

However, the best had yet to come. During our last days in Holland we were contacted by very dear friends who we met on a cruise on P&O Cruises Oriana late last year.

We all got on like a house on fire, and have already met up with them once since our cruise where they took us to see their very talented daughter Joanne Clifton who is currently on tour in the musical Flashdance. She co-stars in that show with Ben Adams. The music and dance routines are truly spectacular with a very obvious display of huge commitment by the whole cast. If you get chance it is a "must see". We saw the show as guests of our friends at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. Joanne is a former winner of the popular BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing, together with Ore Aduba.

On this occasion, and a complete surprise to us, once landed in Hull we made our way to Grimsby where Judy and Keith showed us around Cleethorpes and treated us to a fabulous fish and chip lunch at Steel's Corner House Restaurant, a favourite of theirs - and we now know why - truly delicious.

Our friend's lovely little dog - Chelsea
Cleethorpes Pier

Then they drove us down to Nottingham where their equally very talented son Kevin was appearing in his own touring show that evening together with Karen Hauer - both fabulous dancers. The atmosphere in the packed Theatre Royal was electric with the most energetic dance routines and spectacular performances from the whole cast. Kevin and Karen are of course also Strictly Come Dancing favourites, and are joined in their show by another talented Strictly dancer, Dianne Buswell. This Nottingham show was a sellout, and there were 4 spontaneous standing ovations towards the end.

We were also so lucky to be introduced to the cast on this occasion too, just as we had been at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. An hour or so of drinks together with Kevin and friends followed the end of this show, also just like Manchester with Jo.

The Kevin and Karen Dance Tour is also very much a "must see" too if you get the chance. Click the link on the title here for details.

Both truly fabulous occasions and we look forward to keeping in touch with such lovely new friends.

Currently after the very easy drive home the day after that down the M62, we are back home enjoying the unusually fine British Summer weather.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

From Southampton To Panama And Back

We have just returned from our second Winter weather escape cruise - this one a round trip courtesy of P&O Cruises once again and over 5 weeks from the 3rd January to the 7th February.

As is now usual we booked for a one night stay in our local Premier Inn, which also happens to be the collection point for our Cruise Connect luxury motor coach down to Southampton the day after. All went to plan and in no time at all we were boarding Oceana to settle into our cabin (I hesitate to use the more normal term of stateroom, as Oceana's cabins are notoriously small, and ours was no exception - the person using the shower room could not get out if the other was sat at the dressing table).

The itinerary for this cruise was La Coruna, Antigua, St. Kitts, Falmouth Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Roatan Honduras, Port Limon Costa Rica, Panama, Aruba, St. Lucia, Barbados, Ponta Delgada.

We had asked for a table for 6, but on the first night in the dining room it soon became apparent that we were to be dining on a 2nd sitting table for the two of us. We also chose second sitting, but it is far less popular with many others, hence our missing table companions. That is until we were joined by a delightful couple from Hampshire who asked if we minded them joining us. Not at all, and as it happened we had both shared the same working career which caused much "talking shop" - sorry ladies if you were bored sometimes as a result.

From the beginning the weather out into the English Channel heading towards our first port of call, La Coruna, was absolutely foul with much bumping and banging. Although our day visit in Spain was fair, the Atlantic crossing towards our second call - Antigua - immediately after that was just as bumpy. Once in the Caribbean for a little island hopping down to Panama things became much better with calm and warm sunny weather, except for Honduras where it poured with rain all day long.

La Coruna
La Coruna
At sea in the warm Caribbean sun
Always an impressive sight in foreign ports
Regular deck BBQ's in  the Caribbean sun
St. Kitts
A walk through the park St. Kitts
St. Kitts
P&O Cruises still hold on to formal nights - 7 on this cruise

Panama Canal Locks together with Arcadia
An Aruba shopping mall
A typical house in Aruba
Beautiful Aruba
Out and about in St. Lucia
A visit to Botanical Gardens, St. Lucia
Our chartered catamaran in St. Lucia

Swimming off our catamaran,  St. Lucia
Bridgetown Barbados
This cruise included a partial transit of the Panama Canal, which was a highlight to look forward to for many, but we have made a full transit passage three times in the past. The partial transit consisted of passing through the first three locks into Gatun Lake together with P&O Cruises Arcadia - which was heading into the Pacific Ocean as part of her world cruise, before we headed out again. A very interesting day again though.

Once that was completed, it was back out into the Caribbean to island hop our way towards home. Our final port of call was to be Ponta Delgada in the Azores - a place we have visited previously.

All too soon we were back in Southampton and heading back home, again on our luxury coach. I have no idea why, but there were several aspects of this cruise that irritated me. None more so than the ridiculously expensive ship's internet service. It was segregated into three categories. The basic one would only allow limited social media and messaging. The intermediate one would also include email and limited browsing of the internet, but no video streaming. The top tier - priced at an eye watering price of well over £600 for the full duration of the cruise, would allow full use of the internet just as at home. I chose the intermediate level after a couple of weeks as I couldn't find any regular free shore wifi in the often Carnival owned and controlled Caribbean cruise ports. I paid the rather silly amount of £220 for this privilege.

One thing to note though if using an Apple iPhone to connect to the ship's wifi at this level.

Because video streaming is not allowed, their wifi system blocks the iOS iMessage and FaceTime services while using it, causing those services to become disconnected. However, once ashore and connected to a free wifi service in a bar for example, the iOS reconnected these services, but the way the iPhone does this is to send an automated and hidden service text message. The iPhone also does this if the phone is turned off and then on again, but would normally leave the iMessage and FaceTime services dormant but connected while roaming with mobile data off. Being in a worldwide destination and not Europe, the reconnection texts triggered my phone service provider's rest of the world 24 hour pass - which if I chose to activate it myself would allow me to use my UK calls, texts and data at a daily cost of £7.50.

Unfortunately, and unbeknown to me these regular one second hidden text messages to reactivate the iMessage service that had been blocked and disconnected by P&O's internet service cost me £7.50 a time while ashore, and 40p a time while back on the ship and connected to the Telenor Maritime satellite phone service. And all this happened while I had data roaming disabled throughout in the belief that I would be protected from additional phone costs. My normal monthly phone contract cost of £16 went up to over £60 for the duration of the cruise, and this of course was on top of the crazy price of using P&O Cruises internet service, which together with the way the iPhone's iOS works was responsible.

I am completely "all cruised out" now, and looking forward to a couple of long foreign tours in the motorhome during 2018 together with "normal" good quality, well served food.

No more cruises planned for the foreseeable future.