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Sunday, September 09, 2018

27 Places I Have To Visit

I started writing this over 2 years ago...no idea why I never posted it at the time.  3 of the places on the original list I've already been to - Bucharest, Vienna and Madrid.

It isn't in any particular order, bar the top 2 which I'd really like to do over the next 2 years...if I can somehow scrape the money together as they would by some way be the most expensive places to visit.  Which will only happen by the way of long periods without drinking or going out.

1. Tornado Alley
2. Japan
3. Cuba
4. St Petersburg
5. Melbourne
6. Dubai
7. Seoul
8. Iceland (Northern Lights)
9. Chile
10. Falkland Islands
11. Iran
12. Beirut
13. Detroit
14. Canada
15. Ukraine (Chernobyl in particular)
16. Athens
17. Belfast
18. Orkney
19. Hong Kong
20. Galicia
21. Zimbabwe
22. Costa Rica
23. Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
24. Belgrade
25. Ronda, Spain
26. Tbilisi
27. Tirana

I don't see the list ever getting any smaller.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Complaint: TFL - Various

The first of my complaints this year to TFL - on a broad range of subjects.

******

Dear Sir/Madam

I don't know where to start with this complaint.  How about GRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZR RGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZR RZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZR RZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZ RRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRR ZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZ RRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZ RRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZR RZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZR RZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZ RRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRGRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRRZRR?

Yes, that was what awoke me on both a Saturday and a Sunday morning - early - very early in the mornings, back in September.

I live close to Rayner's Lane tube station, with my bedroom facing onto the Piccadilly line.  I quite like being able to see tube trains go past - for some bizarre reason this marginally excites me and I sometimes like to wave at the passengers as they go by.

However my view has been spoiled, as all of the trees and bushes at the back have either been chopped down or completely stripped bare.  I now have an embankment of rubbish to look at with a load of chopped tree branches.  I can understand cutting back trees next to a tube line - but completely removing all foilage?  This is quite disgraceful - let alone the noise disturbance.

Then we had October.  Almost every day it seemed as though there were significant delays on the Metropolitan line.  A couple of mornings I couldn't even get into work - nearly every morning I was late to work - and quite often late home.  Yes, you did refund some delayed journeys - but others you didn't.  Maybe some delays were out of your control, but most of the time it seemed to be due to signal failures - why did these keep happening?  What are you doing to ensure that these stop occurring?  I believe that I am correct in saying that all signalling on the Metropolitan line is due to be replaced by 2022 - but does this mean 4-5 years of regular signal failures for myself and other passengers?

Then we had some snow the other Sunday.  Not a huge amount of snow, but enough to wipe out both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly line for pretty much the whole day.  Why did this happen?  Why was there no testing done to ensure this kind of failure wouldn't happen?  What has been done to ensure this doesn't happen next time it snows?  Am I safe to go work in central London next time snow is due?

Also the information provided on the website/twitter was dreadful.  Why couldn't we have been advised of the likely timescale of it being out?  And why were anti-economic messages put out advising people not to travel?

Speaking of going against the economy, and the UK in general, I was absolutely appalled to see advertising for RT.  Russia Today, is a Kremlin-funded (if not Kremlin-run) outfit that wants to subvert our democracy and turn all western countries such as our own into unstable, poorer countries.  They have put out reems of outright lies both about what has happened in this country, and across the world.  This is pretty much the equivalent of advertising for the Nazi Party on the tube in 1940...that didn't happen did it?  So why allow our enemy of RT to advertise?  Please seriously reconsider the impact on the country of RT - as this will impact on the income from fares too.

And finally, do you realise that removing Uber's license will mean more people get illegal taxis back from nightclubs?  Is that what you want?  Uber makes many people feel safe on their journey home.  Plus it is safer for taxi drivers themselves as they are not going to get robbed.  Not only an anti-economic decision but an anti-safety decision.  But one assumes the socialist mayor and trade unions are running the show on this.

I appreciate that my complaint is multi-faceted, but I do expect some kind of responses to the questions that I have posed.

Running the transport network for the best city in the world cannot be easy.  There are a lot of things that you get right, and 90% of the time, the service is excellent.  There are great improvements being made, and these are all appreciated.

One more thing - any chance of electronic boards at Rayner's Lane to see when the next tube is due?

Kindish regards
James

******

Dear Mr Winfield

Thanks for your feedback form about your complaints.

I’m extremely sorry to read about the experiences you’ve come across.

I’m sorry to read there have been changes to your view of the tubes from your window.

With regards to delays, as a commuter myself, I can appreciate the frustration and inconvenience caused especially as you rely on the service to travel and punctuality is of essence.

We try our best to run all of our trains to schedule. However, on a network with services as frequent as ours even small delays can cause further disruption to customers down the line.

Having said this, your satisfaction is our utmost concern. Also we want our customers to have a good experience with their journeys on the Underground.

When there is severe weather, for customer safety changes need to be made based on investigation from Train Operating Managers, this is why there were delays and cancellations on the lines.

With regards to your comments on RT, Uber license and information board at Rayners Lane station, I’ve forwarded this so it can be looked into. I can assure you that it’ll be taken seriously as they will investigate it. They’ll also put measures in place to resolve the problem.

I’m grateful that you brought this matter to our attention; we use feedback from customers to ensure that we can consistently develop the services across our network. I also wish you a more pleasant journey on our services.

I would like to again apologise for the inconvenience caused.

Thanks again for contacting us. If there is anything else we can help you with, please reply to this email. Alternatively, you can call us on 0343 222 1234 and we'll be happy to help you.

Kind regards

xxxxxxxxxxx
Customer Service Adviser
Transport for London Customer Services

******

A fairly pointless response.

However - behold the electronic information boards at Rayners Lane:


I'm taking credit.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

James Went To Vienna

Before going on holiday one should always ensure that the next holiday is booked.

But also before going on holiday, one should ensure that the previous one has been blogged about.  Though I still didn't manage to click 'post' before I went to Croatia.

It seems ages ago, but back in May, myself and my most excellent friend, Martin, sat down on a Friday evening and decided to try to find somewhere to go away for a weekend of beer and culture.

I had some budget restrictions - shock horror.  We also wanted to go to a country that we've never been to before and also had to take into account Martin's sensible aversion to Ryanair and Easyjet...being from the north I am used to shit transport, so I'm not too fussed.  I remember when I used to think the Thames Trains slugs were luxury.

We happened upon Vienna.  It ticked the boxes - flights were relatively cheap, maybe £120 return...from Heathrow too...and with Austrian Airlines.  I'd never been to Austria...Martin had but not to Vienna.

The flight and train from the airport were efficient, metro trains also were - if unpleasantly hot.  Our Airbnb accommodation was spot-on, two large bedrooms each with their own balcony, in a modern flat with a few quirky touches.  Our host was typically pleasant and efficient.


Vienna was easy to get around - I think we paid €14 for a 48 hour travel ticket, not that we ever saw anyone being checked for a ticket.  Viennese must be rather honest.  Underground, overground and trams - there were always plenty of options.

Our location was slightly down-market compared to the rest of the city, plenty of immigrants sat around doing nothing at night, but like the rest of the it felt peaceful, civilised and safe.  We had to catch the train over both the River Danube, and the Danube canal, which was a pleasant view - though only around 20 minutes and we were pretty much right in the centre.

Speaking of being civilised and peaceful, the whole city felt relaxed.  Barely anywhere did the city seem that busy.  Tourists were surprisingly rare, though numerous enough where you'd expect them - the city of 2 million people was spread out, with loads of space.  The vibe of the city was totally different to that of say, Madrid...or London.


Cyclists even stopped at red lights!


We can also be civilised.

One of the reasons that I wanted to go to Vienna so much - it was on my top 20 must visit list that I wrote a few years ago and still haven't got around to publishing - was to see some of the works of Gustav Klimt, one of my discoveries of last year...thanks to a fellow Codhead.

Unlike beer, museums were not cheap in Vienna.  Each one cost around €15 to get into, and there is only so much museuming that one can do.

So on the Sunday we went to the palatial Belvedere Museum, which hosts The Kiss - arguably Klimt's most loved painting.  There was a variety of interesting...and boring old-school type art to look at, but anything Klimt was just mesmerising.

And to see The Kiss up close, and as an original, was just simply breathtaking.  I just couldn't stop looking at it, almost as if I was in some form of drug-addled gaze.  I could have stayed there for hours...well...maybe 20 minutes just looking at that photograph, but we had schnitzel to find and consume.


On Monday when we had time to kill before our flight home (more time than we knew at the time...should have flown with Ryanair), we took a punt on the Museum of Modern Art.  Which had a vast array of Klimt and Schiele, along with a wide variety of other impressive modern art - along with some absolute tosh.




On the Saturday evening, however, we had a bit of a fail.  After having excellent guided tours in both Sevilla and Madrid, I've come to believe a guided tour as almost as necessary as having a pre-flight beer.  Our host was an older lady with a toilet brush in her hand.  She explained to us that you have to have 2 years of training to become a tourist guide in Vienna.  Ahhh, good old European bureaucracy.  She explained a lot of things to us.  Detailed, factual explanations.  I can still hear her voice grating on me now.

The tour was supposed to be 2 hours long.  After 5 minutes I turned to Martin in apology, and explained this wasn't as good as other tours that I'd been on.  After about 30 or so minutes we looked at each other and discussed how to escape.  We followed through some arches and when we came out, the group started to head right - but to the left was a selection of outdoor stalls selling beer and sausages, in the sunshine, with trance music blaring out and Viennese breasts popping out of traditional costumes.

Life is about taking your opportunities.  And we took ours.

I hadn't done much research into Vienna, just an hour the night before so I hadn't really planned on where to go.  I knew though that there was some kind of beach bar near the Danube Kanal, so we headed there on the Friday night.


So it was a wonderful surprise to find a long graffiti-adorned walkway along the canal, with lots of pop-up bars - the kind of vibe you'd expect in Peckham, but full of Europeans - loads of pretty women, of course.  An hour later I was attempting the Tango with a man on a stag do.

Believe it or not, they like their beer in Vienna - and its cheap.  €3 a pint was fairly normal.


Food was also good there, but nothing especially stood out.  We had steak one night - but could have had that anywhere.  We had Chicken Schnitzel, whilst sat outside in the pouring rain - just covered.  And a pork knuckle, which looked impressive but was a bit dry.


There's a massive fairground there, but we didn't go on anything.  I don't have money for both rides and beer, and there is only ever going to be one winner there.

Whilst the city itself was peaceful, the bell-ringing on the church right next to our apartment wasn't - there was no chance of a lay-in, especially with the need for the doors to be open to cool down the apartment.

And then we had plane problems on the way home.  Firstly it was an hour late, then they started to get people on the bus to the plane (via a boiling hot greenhouse-like glass tube for a period of enforced sauca), then we were taken off the bus (via the boiling hot greenhouse-like glass tube) as the replacement plane didn't have any chocolate muffins and needed to be stocked before people boarded.

Martin said to me, "two letters.  B.  A.".  I said to him, "seven letters.  R.  Y.  A.  N.  A.  I.  R.".

Our illusion of Austrian efficiency had been shattered.

Despite any imperfections, I had a fantastic trip, it was a source of much joy and inspiration, and Vienna really is one cool city.

Recently I saw that it was nominated as the best city to live in in the world.  And from my two days there, I can thoroughly understand it.  It works, it is relaxing, people seem to have a high quality of life.  The weather is good.  The beer is cheap.  The tourists are minimal.

It is the kind of place that I could go back to repeatedly, and given the importance of this city to the history of the 20th century - home of some of the most important economists, artists...oh yeah and Hitler, I am surprised that it is not far more popular a place to visit.

There are so many other places to visit in the world, but if I get the opportunity, I would happily go back.

Hell, I could even live there.

Complaint: Austrian Airlines

Dear Sir/Madam

A month or so ago, I travelled with yourselves to Vienna.  In Austria.  Though you probably know that Vienna is in Austria.

The flight on the way there was efficient and friendly - abominable cupcake, but hey, free food.

Vienna is a great city, as I am sure that you already know.  We had a great time there, but were ready to come back on the Monday, expecting to get home with enough time to do some tasks ready for work the next day.

Alas.  We were at the airport in good time, security checks were efficient and we made it with enough time for a beer in the bar.

We then walked for quite a long time all the way down to the gate.  Not long after, they announced a delay of one hour.

Not ideal, but I'm kinda used to being delayed on transport, living in London.  Plus there was a decent bar...albeit rather a long walk away.

So we had another drink and then made our way all the way back to the gate.  A bit of standing around then we starting boiling...I mean boarding.

Which meant rather a long time stuck in a glass tunnel, being heated to excessive levels, before then boarding a rammed coach to go to the aeroplane.

Or at least we thought it was going to the aeroplane.  It just sat there, we remained hot and uncomfortable (though not physically boiling any longer).

Nobody knew what was happening.

Eventually we were all told to get off the bus, walk back through the greenhouse, and wait.

No information was forthcoming at first, but we were told that we couldn't board the plane as the catering facilities were not ready.

Yep, you read that correctly - we had to suffer in both the greenhouse and the coach going nowhere because there were no stale muffins on the plane.  Who cares?  Why can you not load passengers and muffins at the same time?

So we hung around, no idea what was happening.  No information, no new ETA.

Eventually, the boarding process started, but my impression of Austria as an efficient, well-run country was shattered.  Miraculously, I suspect the delay was just short of the 3 hours at which point you would be due to compensate us by EU law - though I'd be interested to find out from you exactly how long it was delayed for.

I was considering visiting Vienna again next year, hell I was even vaguely wondering about the possibility of moving there to work if Brexit ends up a complete disaster rather than just a partial disaster.  However, the 2-3 hour delay I suffered because of Austrian's buffoonery has probably put me off from a repeat trip.

Not only that, I then returned to severe delays (shock horror) on the tube network in London, and was subsequently even later home than expected.

It was a much later night than I expected.

A shame to finish a wonderful trip with such an inadequately organised airline.

Regards
James

******

Dear Mr Winfield, 

Thank you for your email dated 22 July 2018. We appreciate your patience while waiting for our response. 

We regret that you were affected by a flight delay on your journey from Vienna to London on 11 June 2018. Any change to your anticipated schedule can be stressful and your frustration under these circumstances is understandable. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this caused and for the unsatisfactory experience. 

Based on our records, flight OS 455 was delayed due to unforeseen technical problem. While we understand your request to be compensated, kindly be informed that your arrival delay was less than 3 hours at your final destination. Therefore, as per EC Regulation 261/2004 we ask for your understanding that we are unable to comply with your request. 

Even though we cannot comply with your present request, we would be happy if you continued to place your trust in Austria. 

Yours sincerely,   

Aldiny Obusa
AUSTRIAN AIRLINES

******

We were less than 30 minutes away from compensation.  Doh.