Monday, 15 June 2015

Where am I going to? Jersey, I hope!

Maybe it's an age thing - I'm not getting any younger - but I do find travel (especially air travel) not quite the pleasure it used to be.
I guess I don't get around as much ...
Margaret and I are just back from Jersey and getting there (a short hop) ought to be a piece of cake. I was responsible for the travel arrangements and I made a bit of a Horlicks of it in honesty.
First question was: boat or plane? We did boat last time and it wasn't too bad - a fast catamaran run by Condor Ferries from Weymouth. It now runs from Poole and it's a bigger boat, but still a fast ferry, taking just over four hours for the crossing (including a stop at Guernsey).
I'd always choose boat rather than plane, but Condor Ferries seems to have achieved the worst of both worlds by combining the slowness of a boat with the "herd 'em in" and "rip 'em off" ethos of Ryanair or Easyjet.
They charge quite a lot more than the plane, then make you book a seat in a somewhat uncomfortable lounge and there isn't the option of wandering round and sitting in a bar or cafe like there is on the Dover-Calais run. You can book a better seat in a "posher" lounge, but that was an extra £20 on the way out and an extra £50 on the way back.
It seemed cheaper to fly and, without the car to worry about, we could be more flexible finding a hotel without parking. I went onto Expedia to book tickets and found flights at decent times and decent prices via Easyjet. I thought I'd booked to fly in and out of Gatwick, but when I checked a few weeks before departure, it turned out I had booked to fly from Southend and back to Gatwick.
I like to think I'm quite good with technology, but clearly I'm not as smart as I thought I was. I'd selected "any London airport" and Southend is a London airport; most of the options on Easyjet (the cheapest) were from Gatwick, this one had sneaked in and I'd clicked it without looking properly.
When I realised what had happened, I tried to change the booking. This was no problem, but it would have cost close to £80 for the two of us, so I decided to stick at Southend. On top of that, when I printed out the boarding cards, it turned out I hadn't booked any luggage. This is an extra £20. Ironically, when we checked in, they offered to put our additional hand luggage in the hold free of charge to make more room in the overheads!
Southend actually turned out to be a happy accident. We got pretty cheap train tickets and it's an easy journey via King's Cross and Liverpool Street. The airport has its own new station and the airport is also brand new, very clean and smart and also very quiet. The train to London was late, but we had plenty of time; the plane was on time and Lucy picked us up from the airport.
Flying back into Gatwick was much more hassle. It's a massive place, you walk what seems like a couple of miles from aircraft to baggage hall and then to station (via a terminal shuttle). Our plane was delayed by a thunderstorm, so we were running 30 minutes late, we missed the Thameslink to St Pancras and had to get a later one, then arrived at King's Cross to find the station partly closed (due to a fire alarm) and our booked train gone. We had to fork out again for Great Northern tickets and get on the 12.35am, which stops everywhere and is full of drunks.
One chap opposite was trying to read his iPad, but kept dropping it. When he got up at St Neots, he dropped his glasses and would have lost them if Margaret hadn't intervened. She also counted one chap being sick five times (but at least it was in the toilet).
On the plus side, I did get to almost finish my book ...
I suspect we'll be making the trip to Jersey a couple of times a year for the foreseeable future, so I need to get my travel agent act together. I'll probably fly unless we need the car (or take Holly) and I'll certainly look at Southend as a first option.

Lucy says the ferry has been getting a lot of bad press. It's a new, bigger catamaran, but has been dogged by technical problems and hasn't been able to dock in bad weather. In fact, one day while we were in Jersey the fast ferry wasn't able to get into St Helier. It was windy, but not that windy.