We went to Cyprus for a week recently. While there, we went on a “VIP Catamaran” trip which was sold to us by the holiday company, Thomson. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what we’d been lead to think it would be by Thomson’s advertising. Thomson’s response hasn’t been very good, as you’ll see. If anyone has any ideas about what to do about this, I’d be glad to hear them.

A web search shows that Thomson have had complaints going back to 2006 about the number of people on the trip. I wish we’d found that before we booked. I hope I’ve got some Google juice and that’ll mean more people find this and consider whether the trip is worth the money.

All aboard

The advertising said that “numbers are strictly limited, so there’s plenty of room to sunbathe on the rigging nets” and “there’s room to stretch out”. It also said “there’s snorkelling gear and canoes too”. The accompanying photograph shows a fairly sparsely populated boat.

What you actually get is a coachload (I’d say at least 50 people) on a boat which certainly doesn’t have room to fit everyone on the nets. The people who get off the coach and to the boat first get those and stick their towels on them. The rear half of the boat has a shaded area with some tables, so we sat at one of those. Someone nearby started smoking. We moved. A whole bunch of people near where we moved to chain smoked through the trip. By then other people had expanded into the space we’d been sat in before. So we got treated to a nice bit of passive smoking, as well as ash blowing onto our clothes and towels. I’d guess we were one of the few, if not the only, non-smoking groups on there. We couldn’t have expected everyone not to smoke, but the density of people on there meant we couldn’t get a space away from it.

The canoes turned out to be 2 canoes. The crew told people to share them, but this wasn’t very realistic given the number of people on the boat and the duration of the swimming stops.

They also play pretty loud dance music during the portion of the cruise when the sail isn’t up.

By the end of it we were fuming at having paid 70 quid each for the privilege of being in a nightclub before the smoking ban came in.

Customer service

We were glad to get back to the shore. That evening, we saw Chris, the Thomson rep, at the Sunrise Pearl hotel, and told him we weren’t happy with the way the trip had been sold and we wanted a refund. As soon as he heard we wanted a refund, he began to stonewall. He said that a refund was not available as we’d had the trip. We pointed out that it was impossible to get off until the end of the trip. He told us that we couldn’t expect the boat to have the same number of people on it as the photograph, and that he hadn’t mentioned numbers in his presentation on the excursions (which he gave when we arrived). He said that “I said there were canoes and there were canoes”. I told him I’d blog about this, and I’m as good as my word (unlike Thomson, alas).

Chris said he’d investigate our claims the following day. When we went back the next evening, he said he’d spoken to some people on the trip from other hotels, who had been perfectly happy with it. When we asked what the extra money for the “VIP” cruise was for (when compared with the other catamaran excursion), he said it was for the open bar and better food, but didn’t mention the extra space and “more relaxed” stuff mentioned in the Thomson advertising. His investigation hadn’t gone as far as actually finding out how many people had been on the boat that day. When we told him that we weren’t happy with his lack of concern, he offered us a bottle of wine. We initially accepted it but later that evening rejected it as it’d have to go in our hold luggage on the flight the next day, and we didn’t want it to break. (I also wasn’t sure whether accepting it would prejudice a future claim for our money back).

When we asked what the official complaint procedure was (but only when we asked), he filled in a web form. As a result, I got an email telling me that “My team are fully trained and empowered to resolve your complaint and I hope you’re satisfied with the outcome and that we’ve taken every step to resolve it fully. If you feel this isn’t the case, then please review the solution with your Holiday Advisor as we will not contact you again about this matter.” Super.

Now what?

As a result of this, we won’t be buying from Thomson again. It’s a shame as the hotel was really good, but there are other good hotels. In these straitened times, I’m quite surprised the company thinks they can get away with service like this.

I’m not inclined to let this drop. If anyone knows what our options might be at this point, I’d be interested to hear them. I’m aware that the Advertising Standards Authority might take an interest, that I might have some recourse because I bought the trip on a credit card (although it may be complicated by the fact that Thomson were acting as agents for the company who ran the cruise, whose name is on the credit card receipt), and that we might be able to use the Small Claims Court (though I’m not sure whether they have jurisdiction as we bought the trip in Cyprus). Anyone dealt with anything like this before? What’s my next move here?

scribb1e and I went to Cornwall, where we stayed in a cottage with a sea view.

We saw the Eden Project. I’d been before, and not thought much of the place, but it’s much more fun when it’s not raining and you can do the outdoor parts as well as go in the huge geodesic domes. We found the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which were pretty and, considering the amount of work and though which had gone into them, downright impressive. Their farm shop also sold us some fine rump steak.

Continuing the gardens theme, we visited some Japanese Gardens, which were very tranquil until a coachload of white-haired old ladies went on the rampage through the place. We’d already looked around by then, and had settled down to have lunch, so their calls of “Cooeee! Deirdre!” did not disturb us too much. After that, we went to St Michael’s Mount on foot, and, as you can see from the photograph, had to return by boat.

We also found a tiny beach you could only reach on foot, and imitated Jack Vettriano paintings.

The weather was pretty warm most of the time, so I borrowed scribb1e‘s Tilley hat.

Holiday viewing was Buffy season 5, which we felt was tightly plotted and much better than the previous season. I got started on re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. On my second pass, unrushed because now I know how it ends, I’m savouring the expansiveness of the writing rather than just wishing he’d get on with it. The Diary of a Manhattan Callgirl, which we found in Tescos, failed to either titillate or to arouse much other emotion: it’s sort of Brigit Jones with hookers.

Well, I’m back. Here’s what I did on my holidays (note laptop in background, and Firefly and Battlestar Galactica DVDs, and Chronicles of Amber in my lap). Oh, all right, there was also swimming and scenery, but most of the time was reserved for the important things in life. It was fun.

You lot all seem to have been busy, so I’m queuing up open tabs in Firefox as I accumulate stuff I’m replying to. So far, we have:

So, Battlestar Galactica eh? Unlike Firefly, it’s not getting cancelled as it’s apparently very successful. There are certain similarities. Both have the same cinema verite, handheld look (in both the filmed and CGI shots: not surprising as the same CGI company did both BSG and Firefly). Both focus on people rather than on the particle of the week, both are serial rather than episodic, allowing character and story arcs to develop. (I’m curious about the way the BSG’s makers try to distance it from science fiction: they seem to assume that SF means Star Trek, which as far as I’m concerned is an occasionally fun but weak example of the genre).

What are the differences that might explain BSG’s success? BSG is a big story: an entire civilisation in danger, a Biblical exodus, and characters who are political and military leaders. We rarely see the underdogs in the BSG universe, but since they have so little freedom of action, that’s not very surprising. BSG is darker: no snappy comebacks and laugh out loud moments. Oh, and let’s not overestimate our demographic: while Inara is pretty, we see rather more of Number 6 in BSG, and BSG is generally sexier.

I like them both, although I think it’ll be interesting to see whether BSG can keep up its early promise now it has become such a hit.

The Lakes were lovely. We had excellent weather, and the scenery was beautiful. S and I took many, many photographs. We walked up Cat Bells, went to the Sellafield Visitors Centre (which, disappointingly, does not sell fluorescent T-shirts saying “I’ve been to Sellafield”), went on a boat trip, and also managed to do a bit of reading in the evenings.

At Brantwood, John Ruskin’s former home, we happened across a performance of The Tempest by Illyria, who were excellent: a company of 5 actors, a simple set and a rollicking performance, in the best tradition of traveling players (being a Pratchett geek, I thought of Vitoller’s Men in Wyrd Sisters).

We also happened across a “3 for £10” deal on SF classics in a bookshop, so I bought Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowiz. I’ve read Canticle, so that’s gone to S. The Forever War‘s grinding tale of the pointlessness of war came to mind when I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on Sunday night. My favourite was The Left Hand of Darkness, though, for the evocative and touching description of an alien society. Recommended.

Fahrenheit 9/11 was biased and polemical and relied too much on pathos (or do I mean bathos?), but was quite terrifying for all that. I hope lots of Americans are watching it.

I’m back. Rome was lovely. The weather was just about right. It rained a bit on some days but we had sunshine for the first couple of days. As suggested by S, who has more imagination than I do, here is the Slightly Sketchy Guide to Rome.

<lj-cut> Getting there Ryanair are doing dirt cheap flights to Rome Ciampino. We got into Rome on the bus they point you at from the airport, and, having missed that on the way back, took the Metro Line A out to the end at Anagnina and then taking the bus from there, which was much cheaper and got us there in time for Ciampino to close its airspace because of a security alert and surround an Air Berlin flight with machine gun wielding police. We never did find out what that was about. Got back an hour late, which wasn’t too bad.

Places to stay Hotel Colors was a good place to stay. It’s a tiny hotel/hostel about 5 minutes from St Peter’s. It has dorm rooms and private rooms (we had one with bathroom after I learned my lesson about specifying this in Barcelona), a kitchen with fridge, and a terrace to sit on. I did see one review on the web complaining it wasn’t a party all night sort of place (they lock the kitchen and terrace at 11pm), but that was all good from our point of view, as our room was next to the kitchen.

Things to see So much to see. To my ex-evangelical Protestant eyes, St Peter’s looks more like a palace than anything to do with religion, but is nonetheless spectactular inside and out (outside more so by night). The view from the dome is worth the climb. We made some attempts to translate the Latin stuff which is written in large and friendly letters around the inside, but these foundered because of fading memories of Latin (hers) and New Testament quotations (mine). There was some stuff about rocks and Churches, anyway.

The Colosseum was suitably colossal. The approach to it is a bit spoilt by the noise and fumes from the traffic. You can get to it via the Forum during the day. The Forum itself is a crazy mixture of triumphal arches, temples and other slightly crumbled, very very old buildings.

The Pantheon is a pagan temple converted into a Christian church. The hemispherical dome, equal in diameter to the height of the building, is pretty impressive for a building which is thousands of years old.

The catacombs along the Via Appia were an interesting place to spend an afternoon. The Via Appia Antica is closed to traffic on Sundays, so we chose that day to head out of Rome and along the shady cobbled road. After a few minutes walk, all was quiet save for birdsong. We found our way to the Catacombs of San Callisto and joined a tour of the second level underground, which was given by an little old American Catholic priest. We were told that nobody ever lived in the catacombs as it was too hot. The Christian Romans lived along side their non-Christian counterparts, although they would use the catacombs as an out of the way place to hold services during periods of persecution. The Christians would seal up the body on a shelf in the rock after covering it in quicklime to speed decomposition and get rid of some of the smell. There were no remains on the level which is open to the public, as the archeologists had moved them to prevent bits being taken as souvenirs.

The tour was all too brief, so we didn’t really have time to stop and look at anything beyond his organised stopping places. There were a few plugs for the church his talk, but even so, I found it more spiritually affecting than the Vatican itself. There were about a quarter of a million people buried in the catacombs, with tunnels extending for miles underground. The priest’s running gag was to pretend he might get lost, so the American mom in our group would constantly have to reassure her brood that he was joking.

Places to eat Anywhere but somewhere recommended by the Rough Guide, it seemed, as the couple of times we tried that the food was worse than in the places we just wandered into off our own bat. Trastevere was a good place to go for restaurants, though there were a couple of good ones in the area near the Vatican, too. Our favourites were Scaletta dei Sapori on Via Crescentia, Trattoria Romolo near Vatican and Castello, and Aristocampo in Trastevere.

What to read I took Don Cupitt’s “The Sea of Faith“, was hard going in places but provided much food for thought. Cupitt wants a version of Christianity which explicitly denies that God exists other than as an idea in the minds of people. I’ve reviewed the book here, if you’re interested. It caused much discussion over dinner. I also bombed through “The Lovely Bones” in the airport, so I’m not sure I did it justice.

The Rough Guide was OK, except for the restaurant reviews. It did come in handy for finding the hotel and for finding our way out to the Catacombs, though.

Overall Rome overwhelms you with its history. There’s almost too much to take in. It’s chaotic, fascinating and well worth a visit.

Not been posting lately. It’s been a busy few weeks.

<lj-cut text=”Barcelona was excellent.”> Barcelona was lovely. I’d like to add to Terrie and Lise’s rhapsodising about it.

September turned out to be a good time to go. It wasn’t too hot, but we mostly had sun, despite the occasional downpour.

The food and wine were great. Had tapas a few times. Tried Les Quinze Nits, which I think turned out to be the best evening meal we had, and reasonably priced too. Watching the chap in one bar pouring cider from over his head into the glass (to aerate it) was fun too.

Barcelona is a beautiful city, full of tree lined avenues and squares. The Sagrada Familia, the cathedral by Gaudi, was magnificent even in its unfinished state, with detailed carvings all over the place. There’s a good view from the towers, too. I wandered up to the north of where we were staying, into the Gracia district, and found what looked like another Gaudi building, too.

We had a day trip to Montserrat, a monastery on the side of a mountain. Rode a cable car to get to the place, and took a funicular to near the top. Another spectacular view, although I kept well away from the edge 🙂

People are friendly, public transport works, and there’s lots to see. Thanks to Lise and Terrie for organising it.

It’s a shame to be back at work again. Sigh. No big plans for the coming weeks, although I’m sure something will turn up.

Came back from Center Parcs on Friday.

<lj-cut text=”What I did on my holidays”> After spending ages in the opticians trying to get new contact lenses in and then out again, I picked up Ed and jacquic and headed off for Sherwood. The days have all jumbled together somewhat, so here are some highlights:

Paintballing on the Sunday was good. Got hit a few times, including in the face, but it didn’t hurt much. I think the worst bruise was received by Clare, who was shot at close range by a member of her own team who’d left his safety off. I’ve a feeling the other team were being less middle class about keeping to all the rules, so we lost abysmally, but had a good time anyway. Chris’s impersonation of Rambo was fun to watch: I think he must have spent about 60 quid on extra ammo in the end.

Not having to drive anywhere, I was able to have the odd glass of wine now and again. Got a bit sloshed on Sunday night when we all went to the Tex-Mex place, but I don’t think I did anything too embarrassing.

I played badminton and enjoyed it. I think I’m another person who was put off raquet sports by tennis. Unfortunately I was wearing sandals while playing (don’t own trainers and I joined the game unexpectedly, having gone to spectate) and ignored a pain developing in my left foot. I’ve ended up with a nasty patch of missing skin on the bottom of that foot, which has made me limp a little ever since I did it. Silly me. Still, badminton was fun. Also did a bit of table tennis.

terriem lent me new Harry Potter book (with strict instructions not to fold, spindle or mutilate it), which I spent one day reading. I liked it. Will read the next one.

The big swimming pool and waterslides under the dome were fun, although the rapids were not very.

Played a reasonable number of board games and the like. Jacqui appears to be addicted to the Lord of the Rings Top Trumps cards, so I can see her having to buy her own set soon.

We got on reasonably well for a group of people spending time at close quarters for a week, although there were some spats from time to time.

All in all, I’d go again next year and do some more badminton and paintballing (with trainers this time).

I was diverted from General Dancing by a invite from lisekit to a 50s themed bop at Churchill. Whole lotta jiving went on. Good fun was had by all. It was nice to see the old place again. Not much seems to have changed. Returned to Lise and Terrie’s and left rather late, so feeling somewhat tired on Saturday. I went to Tom’s barbeque but not to the fireworks/film showing in town afterwards. Feeling somewhat more rested today.