Thursday 23 December 2010

Tuesday 21st December - Doha/Manchester/Home

We heard rumours last night that we were all being shipped out to Manchester the next day and should be checked out and ready to go at 6am.  We were thinking of avoiding the Qatar rep in the hopes of being left behind and hopefully getting on a Heathrow flight.

Unfortunately we saw the rep.  He confirmed the 6am pick up.  I asked if everyone had been informed of this fact and he said that the hotel would be advising people.  I asked when but didn’t get a response.

We went back to our room, Will went to lay on the bed around 10pm ostensibly to watch TV, within 3 minutes his snores could be heard the other side of the suite.  I sat about typing up the blog and then playing games.  By 11.15 I realised that the hotel had not informed us of the pickup.  I got dressed and was just about to go looking for the rep when an envelope was slipped under the door informing us of the 6am pick up.

Went to bed around 1.30, watched some crap telly and finally fell asleep.  All too soon it was 4am and time to get up.  I showered, dressed and packed up my stuff.  Took Will his coffee and after he had performed his ablutions we packed the remaining stuff and went to check out around 5.45.

As usual the rumours were that the bus was going to be cancelled again.  The good news was that breakfast had been laid out early so Will and I dashed off to feed our faces.  Trouble was neither of us felt like eating very much at that time of morning.

The bus from the hotel was pretty surreal; there was a radio show on preaching about Islam.  The English narrators were awful, their intonation was all in the wrong places so everything sounded like a question but was in fact a statement.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had nice voices but they didn’t.  Still, we are all aware of the five pillars of Islam now.  Immediately after the sermon an American sounding female DJ played John Lenon’s “Imagine”.  I held my breath when it got to the verse about there being no religion!

We get inside the airport and as usual there are no information boards and about 20 queues.  We did not know our flight number so Will accosted the first Qatar rep he found.  He showed him our boarding passes from the Sunday flight we should have been on and asked what was going on.  The rep in all seriousness said “You have missed your flight”.

I thought Will was very patient when he informed him that we had not missed our flight, it had been cancelled and we had been sent to an hotel.  He did mention something about the rep looking at us as if we were from Mars but didn’t catch much of it, I was too busy laughing.

We were directed to join a queue, then told by someone else to join a different queue.  300 people one check in desk.  The clerk was quite quick in checking in some people in under 8 minutes, others were taking as long as 25 mins.  One chap who had changed his flight to Monday into Gatwick was told that he should have been there yesterday as he was booked on a flight and was marked as a no show.  This was the man that spent most of his time talking to the rep in the hotel and still wasn’t told anything.

They gradually opened more gates which meant the queue behind us got smaller and we waited even longer.  I needed a pee and there were only 8 people in the queue in front of us.  Will told me to hurry up.  I pointed out that even if she was super fast and only took 7 mins per person I still had an hour in which to pee.

It eventually took us about 2½ hours to get checked in.  Just enough time remaining to get a nicotine fix in before boarding.  Luckily there were empty seats around us so Will moved into one of them so we could spread out a little. 

The flight passed reasonably quickly, I watched three films and played online games.  We landed after 7 hours 45 mins to a light smattering of snow.  We collected our luggage and set about putting on warm clothes.  We found a rep who told us that the buses were outside. 

I managed to get a quick ciggy in before we boarded the bus.  Our Scottish Driver, Dave informed us that he could only drive for 4½ hours before he had to stop for a break.  However, we would be hitting Birmingham at rush hour and we may well have to stop short of Heathrow, but he would do his best to get us there in the 4½ hours.

We settled into our seats, ok we wedged into our seats with hand luggage between us on the floor taking up what little leg room there was.  As we were driving we realised that there was hardly any traffic.  We also realised that it was getting warmer and warmer in the coach.  Several people went and asked the driver to turn down the heating. 

When the temperature hit 29 degrees inside I had my first nosebleed and went and spoke to the driver.  It turned out that the heating computer was malfunctioning and he could not turn the temp down.  I burnt my foot on the heater and started to feel sick.  Most people fell asleep or just sat sweating. 

We made it to Heathrow in record time.  Sadly we had advised our cab driver to meet us about 8.30 we arrived about 7.45.  I managed to get a good few ciggies in before he arrived.  The snow was much thicker around London but most of it had melted.

We finally arrived home around 10.30 a mere 19 hours travelling, much better than the 24 hours we had been expecting.

It was good to be home and I had my first bowl of Frosties for almost three weeks.

All in all an excellent holiday, even the delay wasn’t too bad.  We got to stay in a great hotel of a standard we will never be able to afford.


Monday 20 December 2010

Monday 20th December – Doha

It was the usual story, Will was snoring soundly and I was wide awake for most of the night.  I went to bed around 5am and slept for a while then got up for a nice hot shower using Molton Brown toiletries and drying off with a massive white towel and then donning the fluffy white towelling gown.    I made a cup of tea for myself and coffee for Will.  I was just checking email whilst Will was having a shave and the phone rang.  Reception were advising that we needed to check out as the bus was collecting us for 8am.     

I shouted to Will who asked the time.  I told him it was about five to seven.  A couple of minutes later a dervish emerged from the bathroom who was madly throwing things into bags whilst telling me it was actually five to eight.  I sat and watched the spectacle for a while and thought about the flight we were due to catch. It was not due till 5.30 in the evening so they would not be picking us up so early.  I tried to ring reception back but they did not answer.  I helped Will packing the last few things including the wet undies (we did some washing last night).  I left the phone ringing reception and eventually someone cut in on the line to call us and say that they had just had a message to say that the bus was cancelled.

I think they cocked up and called us by mistake but it was fun to see Will pack all our stuff up in less than two minutes.  What followed was even funnier.  We wanted to be ready when the bus eventually came so Will decided to dry the damp undies in the microwave.  He assured me that as a student he had learned this handy skill.  He successfully dried two pairs of my undies and my travel socks and I was impressed.  However, when it came to drying his own smalls he was no quite so attentive.  

I was still sending mails and suddenly noticed the burning smell.  Will opened the microwave and his pants were on fire!  I didn’t realise he was a liar.  After discarding the burnt briefs we went to breakfast.  Breakfast was great, full English, Indian, Chinese, American basically whatever you wanted was there.  Except of course real bacon.  There was veal bacon but that really is a poor substitute.

After filling our bellies we set of in search of the Qatar rep who advised us nothing was happening there would be a bus later to take people for a flight that had been laid on.  However, it was a small plane and was overbooked as there were still people here from the day previous to our arrival.

Will went and bought some new pants from the shop, I think we will have to extend the mortgage to pay for them when we get home but it will be worth it.  We explored the grounds of the hotel, it really is beautiful.  The pool looked very inviting but we resisted.  We sat in the coffee shop where Will had his first decent cup of decaff in two weeks.  We chatted to other “refugees” and rumours were rife.  Some people were saying we would definitely be on the 1pm bus others that more snow was expected at Heathrow and no flights would be going. 

Will joked that perhaps we should be practising learning Auld Lang Syne in Arabic one chap laughed so much we thought he was going to lay an egg but several others looked panicky. 

Subsequently we have been advised that the people from Saturday flight would get priority but that no more flights would be leaving today.  Some people are getting a little upset at the prospect of not being home for Christmas.  Will and I are remaining philosophical and are making the best of our extra free holiday in this stunning hotel. 

I have instructed my boss to pay the drivers in case I am not back.  We have both phoned our parents to advise the latest info and our friend Ish has picked up the cat, Foobie from the cattery.  The only problem is that we haven’t bought any Xmas presents yet.  Will is actually on holiday this week and it was planned he would shop whilst I was at work.

Christmas may be a little late this year.  

Sunday 19th December – Delhi/Doha

I woke refreshed after my 23 minutes of sleep and was rearing to go.  Running round under a cold shower whilst trying not to let my teeth chatter or shiver to loudly was a challenge but Will managed to sleep through it all.  He only woke when I provided him with coffee.  Check out was super fast and our driver was waiting outside.

Having checked the flight details we were aware there would be a bit of a delay somewhere along the line due to the snow in Heathrow but we didn’t anticipate quite how much carnage the cute white stuff could cause.

We were due to have almost a two hour layover at Doha before onward flight to Heathrow at 12.50pm local time.  When we got our boarding passes for both legs of the flight we realised that they had delayed the connecting flight till 8pm that night.

There then followed several hours of milling round the airport and periodically checking the internet to glean details as Qatar airways were not very informative.  There were members of staff telling people being told to sit here, there, wait here, there.  Don’t wait there etc but no official announcements were made.

I did feel sorry for the poor buggers on the information desk as people were getting irate and shouting at them.  I asked if there was anything happening and was told that there were no hotel rooms empty and that they were trying their best to find us all rooms.  I had searched on the internet and had found plenty of available rooms and asked if we managed to book ourselves into one would the airline reimburse us for the costs and for transportation.  

I was told no, the airline had agreements with certain hotels and that we could not book it ourselves.  I said that once we passed the 10 hour deadline we would be perfectly at liberty to do so but we would wait patiently.  I suggested that they should perhaps make some announcements.  If people are given information they wouldn’t be quite so annoyed and come shouting at the information desk.  She said that there was no information to tell people so I told her that that is what the announcement should say.  Please wait patiently we are doing our best to find everyone hotels and there was no flight information available.

After about an hour an announcement came over the speakers saying exactly that. I was quite pleased they had taken my advice and used my speech.  I wasn’t too impressed when they started repeating that same message every 15 minutes.

We were provided with another voucher for heavy refreshment, which turned out to be samosas and chips or chicken bun and chips.  We ate out of boredom.  We did speak to some very interesting people and there was a sort of camaraderie between those of us who had not been taken to an hotel yet.

We were dreading being taken to an hotel with just the clothes on our backs.  I was more worried about running out of cigarettes.  Disaster was averted, I bought a carton in duty free. . .  phew!

I wouldn’t have worried about my clothes had I known what was coming next.  We were herded on a bus and taken to the arrivals lounge and told we had to go through immigration and then collect our cases before being taken to the hotel.  First we had to queue up at a desk to get an hotel voucher.  This was an arduously slow process where the clerk had to manually type in our passport nos and details of the hotel and package before printing off the form and handing it over. 

The next bit was even worse, immigration.  There were only about 800 people here   but we stood in queues that were moving at a snail’s pace.  Yet again the clerks were manually inputting all passport details, checking photos etc and all whilst looking amazingly dour.  We were again herded outside the airport where we were told to wait for the hotel bus which would probably be about another 20 mins or so. 

I dread to think how they will cope at the airport when the World cup is held here.  Most people were getting a little bit moody but imagine how bad it will be with 100 times the amount of travellers who will generally be boozed up footy louts arrive and have to wait 100 times as long!  Will and I are predicting riots at passport control.  The other worrying fact is that the airline were struggling to find rooms for 800 people.  Ok so this may be purely a matter of economics but how many footy fans will be able to afford expensive hotels?

Will was of course the hero of the day.  He had been to a cash machine in the airport when we first arrived and got out cash because he anticipated delays and the cash machines running out of money.  He asked how far to the hotel and was told about 30 rials by taxi.  We grabbed our mate Dave who we had been chatting to and joined the taxi queue and off we went.

We arrived at the hotel before the masses so got checked in pretty smartish.  There were people milling around who had been sent to the hotel hours previously but it seemed as if they hadn’t been here long.

Will and I retired to our room, desperate to have a wash and brush up and maybe a drink before bed.  We could not believe our room, well suite. Solid wood furniture, leather sofas a huge flat screen tv in the seating area, dining area with mini sink, two fridges and a microwave.  In the bedroom was a walk in wardrobe a huge bed and another massive flat screen tv.

The light in our bathroom was not working so the bathroom was a bit of a mystery.  We made ourselves a cup of tea and reported the faulty light.  After a short while a chap from housekeeping arrived and fixed the problem.  Just as he left our new mate Dave called us to say dinner was still available for another 30 mins and that it was apparently good.

Never wishing to miss out on free food we left in search of the coffee lounge.  It was only as we were walking around did we realise how truly magnificent this hotel was and of course once again how poorly dressed we were.  Men here wear the thobes (smart white dress) with the Shimagh and Egal (headdress and ties with tassels).  Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world and it is certainly apparent.

Our very late dinner was buffet style and had real meat and cakes too.  Will and I both were happy and not long after retired to bed.

Saturday 18th December – Delhi

We had a nice breakfast in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel whilst watching the kites swooping around the rooftops.  Karol Bagh had changed a lot since our previous visit.  There were lots of hotels and neon signs everywhere.

We went for a walk around the market, there were nowhere near as many stalls as there used to be.  Many of the small shops had also gone.  I managed to find a stall selling watches but couldn’t get close enough to see as there were lots of people trying on sunglasses.  Will has truly gone local.  He pushed his way through, dragging me in his wake.  I picked 6 watches and Will turned to the stallholder and demanded discount.  A burly old Sikh chap standing close by laughed out loud then stood grinning at Will.  Sadly we didn’t get any discount as the watches were on sale but I was dead impressed with Will’s new Delhi-esque attitude.

We found a coffee shop and sat and waited for the menu to be brought and after a short 35 minutes it arrived. I complained to the waiter and he said it was because they were busy.  No sweetie, it is because you are disorganised and spend 10 minutes just getting a bottle of water out of the fridge.    We eventually got our drinks, drank them at warp speed due to the raging thirst we had acquired sitting waiting for so long.  

Next we visited Anjlika, our favourite pastry shop and bought some fantastic cakes and returned to our room to eat them with some tea.  Sat about for a while before venturing out for another walk around and another visit to the pastry shop, this time for a sit down lunch and a takeaway of veg puff snack to last us through till dinner.

We spoke to our travel agent, Vinay who arranged to meet us for dinner that night so we spent the rest of the afternoon watching yet another crap film.  Not quite on par with Footloose but up there.

We went to the restaurant in the hotel and had a sumptuous meal, our first non veg meal in what seemed an age and we really enjoyed it.  Vinay came bearing gifts of a of an intricate pewter key ring and some incense sticks.  We shared stories of our travels and gave him feedback on hotels, guides, attractions etc.  All too soon the evening turned late.  We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 5.30am so we all made our excuses and left.

Obviously I was struck down with can’t sleepitus whilst Will snored loudly.  I eventually thought I might be able to sleep and settled down in readiness.  I glanced at the clock and realised I could get a full 23 minutes of shut eye before having to get up, shower, pack, check out etc.   It really was the best 23 minutes of sleep you could ask for.

Friday 17th December – Puri/Delhi

Not looking forward to the early check out today.  The Toshali Sands check out time is 8am.  This is apparently because most people leave by train and all of the trains leave early morning.

We managed to extend our check out till 11am so after a leisurely breakfast we mooched around the hotel, sat in the gardens and admired the buffet that was being set up for the Welders Designers Corporation of India who were holding their 37th annual conference there.

There are lots of crows, some of them are massive, they were intimidating the staff by gathering in great numbers close to the food and squawking wildly.  After a while we tired of the noise and withdrew to the room to pack.  That killed two minutes so we sat and waited watching Footloose on the TV.  English channels here are limited to two and believe it or not Footloose was the best option.

After checking out we walked to the local Coffee shop and had some lunch.  We were not getting picked up until 3pm.  After lunch we returned to the hotel and sat in reception watching as busloads of people arrived.  Mainly men, who all spoke really loudly despite only being a foot away from the person they were talking to.  We could only speculate that this was due to the fact they were welders and worked in very noisy environments.

The guide and driver arrived just as I was having a last ciggy so of course everyone had to wait for me again.  We were driving back to Bhubaneswar airport where we would catch a flight back to Delhi.  We were pleased to note that the airport here wasn’t the same shambles as Kolkata.  There was plenty of chairs and a very nice restaurant. 

With a little forward thinking we ordered some veg pakora which we had intended to stick in a bag and eat when we arrived in Delhi as we were sure it would be very late.  In our experience all internal flights in are always delayed. The waiter asked if we wanted them packaged and put them in a nice foil tray with napkins. 

There was a smoking area in the restaurant so I of course took advantage of this before we left to go through security.  It was all remarkably painless and we were astounded when the flight actually left on time. 

Our driver seemed a bit confused as to where the hotel was located.  It is a bit like a rabbit warren in that area with narrow roads, cars parked everywhere and cars tooting each other to reverse into a gap so that they can pass.  Luckily Will and I recognised the main road and were able to direct the driver to the narrow street where our hotel was.  The driver had a most bemused look when we started directing him and was almost incredulous that we got him to the right street.

It was still pretty late when we arrived at the Clark International Hotel in the Karol Bagh area so we ate our pakora with some freshly brewed tea.  Yum!!

Saturday 18 December 2010

Thursday 16th December – Puri

After breakfast we went to the tours and travel manager’s office and met our guide/driver for the day, a chap with the good Indian name of Peter.

Peter drove us through Puri town centre and we were singularly unimpressed.  Ok so the road was about 10 lanes wide but there was not much there of any note.  There seemed to be an abundance of banks but not many shops.  The market as far as we could see consisted of people sitting with a sheet on the floor with vegetables on it.  The cows were everywhere, fat, happy looking cows they were too.  

The road was one of the best we have been on in India and took us through many small agricultural towns and rice paddies. The lake was massive, lots of it being used for farming.  There were little islands everywhere and it was quite funny to see a cow on an island that was little bigger than it was.  Only when they left the island and were only ankle deep did it make sense.

We arrived at the tourist centre and chartered our boat for two and a half hours to take us to see the river mouth and the wild dolphins.  Our skipper was joined by his son and they took turns steering the boat.  Whomever was driving got to wear the shared baseball cap.  Will gave the boy his cap and after a little adjustment he seemed pleased as punch.

We passed villages, fishermen and lots of other boats.  One boat pulled along side and matched our speed to allow a chap to jump aboard with a washing up bowl of what we thought was seafood.  It turned out he was offering us oysters.  He broke one open and showed us the pearl.  Will and I were both wondering how he was going to cook the seafood until the pearl appeared . .  doh!

We arrived at the dolphin area and sat and watched.  We were lucky enough to see a dolphins or at least bits of dolphin.  They don’t jump out of the water like those you see in a dolphinarium but they do come up for air.  We saw quite a few but were never fast enough to get any pictures.

After a brief stop at the river mouth where we were once again offered pearls at extortionate prices and cold beer we returned to the tourist area.  We asked Peter if the food was good and he said no, it was dirty but he would take us somewhere clean.  The restaurant owner greeted us with a large crab and told us it was special before giving us the menu.  Will ordered crab thali and I ordered boiled egg thali.  The owner kept telling Will that it wasn’t special and was pointing to other items on the menu that were special.  Eventually he gave up pushing the special and went away with our order.

Will thoroughly enjoyed his crab.  I enjoyed most of my egg except the bit that bounced off the spoon, hit me in the guts and rolled down my front leaving a nice tumeric stain as it went.  I know I an a messy eater generally but in my defence I was only given a metal spoon to eat with and I use the term metal loosely.  It would be far more descriptive to say my spoon was made of tin foil.  You try cutting a hard boiled egg with tin foil and you see how good you are!

On the way back to the hotel both of us were dozing off in the car.  Not too sure if it was the hum of the diesel engine or the calming influence of the lake but we both felt tired.

Dinner in the hotel that evening was most amusing, waiters were rushing round like crazy showing us the vast array of dishes available.  We were a little peeved when we discovered that there was no bread again but sat down to eat.  The drinks arrived quickly and then the head waiter came out with a basket of freshly cooked bread just for us.  It was garlic nan bread that was burning hot and very nice.  We were pestered by it seemed half of the restaurant staff asking if everything was ok.  10/10 for effort.

Wednesday 15th December - Puri

We spent the morning on the beach.  What a fantastic beach it was too.  Deserted golden sand as far as the eye could see in both directions.  We had a bit of a paddle but the waves were a little too ferocious for swimming.  All too soon it was time to return to the hotel which is a 5 minute drive away through the protected forest that is home to deer.  We didn’t actually see any wild deer just evidence that they had “been” there.

Later that afternoon we visited the Tours and Travels man.  We were just planning to get the car to drive us into town but he talked us into visiting Dolphin Island and seeing the largest lake in India.

Spent more time mooching around and watching telly till dinner time.

Went down to dinner and the restaurant was deserted, this was due to the wedding that all the American Gujeratis were attending.  We ordered our drinks and set off for the buffet.  It was quite disappointing, many of the tureens were empty; there were no meat dishes and no bread.  When we sat down to eat we were even more disappointed as the food was all ice cold.  After a few mouthfuls each we gave up.  Cold cauliflower is pretty awful.  Our drinks still hadn’t arrived.  I called the waiter and asked for our drinks and he asked us if everything was ok to which we both replied no, the food is cold.

He dashed off and ten minutes later returned with our drinks and the bill.  Will wrote on the bill about the lack of dishes and food being inedible due to it being cold. Another waiter appeared who asked if we wanted something else.  Will was not a happy bunny and said no thanks and that we just wanted to go back to our room.

Back in the room I cracked out a packet of biscuits and we started playing cards.  After 10 mins the doorbell rang and it was the chief chef who apologised and wanted to have another chance to cook us something.  Will said no thanks and sent him away.

Another 20 mins passed and half a packet of biscuits and the doorbell rang again.  This time it was the Restaurant manager and two waiters, they had brought us a meal.  He was very apologetic and wanted us to please eat something.  They had cooked us the most expensive dishes on the menu; a prawn dish, chicken curry, rice with fruit and cashews and some garlic nan bread.  They dished it up and all stood watching to make sure we were going to eat it.  When they were happy we were munching they left us to it.

The dishes were all great tasting and hot too.  We were quite pleased to get a dinner as we had eaten something at lunchtime that had disagreed with both of us and we were looking forward to having a good meal to get rid of the acid stomach.

Dinner in your room at 10.30 is pretty special I can tell you!