Another Bowl of Peeled Grapes Please, Waiter

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If all goes according to plan, I should be spread-eagled in a sun lounger on a foreign beach as you read this, with a copy of some second-rate espionage novel in one hand and a large and very cold beer in the other. Maybe even nodding to the passing waiter to bring another plate of canapés and a bowl of ready-peeled grapes, or passing the time of day with famous celebrities as they stroll slowly past splashing their feet in the warm clear blue water of the Mediterranean. I mean, we did book a really nice hotel; though - looking now at some photos posted on the Web by previous visitors of the construction site next door to it and the dilapidated street of half-demolished houses round the back - I'm not so sure.

But, still, it will be a break from the hectic document engineering thing I do all the rest of the time. Having finally got round to taking a holiday this year, we decided on a week in Malta - somewhere we've been planning to go for some years. When I was young, we lived there for four years (my father was in the Royal Air Force) and it will be interesting to see how it's changed. Some friends who went there a few years ago set me a postcard of their hotel on the cliff at Golden Bay, pretty much where I remember there being a military firing range. We kids regularly used to dig up clips of shells on the beach below, to the horror of our parents. I wonder if the tin shack with its cool box full of ice-cream (the only facility on the beach at the time) is still there. I doubt it.

To save the hassle of trying to coordinate flights and stuff, we just booked through a local travel agent. Let them earn their commission by doing all the hard work. But what's amazing is the volume of paperwork and the apparent complexity of organizing it all. When I book a trip to Redmond, I get a single PDF through email that contains all of the details of the flight, hotel, rental car, and other stuff. So far (and we hadn’t actually departed when I was writing this post) I've had over 40 pages of stuff from the travel agent for this trip. I've signed seven forms, and paid three different amounts on my credit card. There's so much bumph that they even send you a nice hard-backed folder to keep it all in. I wonder how much all that costs?

And when I fly to Redmond, I just need to turn up at check-in and wave my passport. This trip, I've got at least three pieces of paper that list all the documents I need to have ready just to check in. They include a 24 page booklet that contains flight coupons, details of the hotel, accommodation terms, flight times and destination information, health warnings, travel advice, and - best of all - two vouchers for a free drink on the plane. I especially like that these have a picture of two intertwined champagne glasses on the front, and a stern warning on the back that they are "not valid for alcoholic drinks, including champagne".

It also says I have to fill in a form with my name and home address, and the address of the place we'll be staying in Malta. Of course, they posted the form to me at my home address, and helpfully sent it along with a confirmation of the destination hotel address. You begin to wonder if it would have been less hassle just doing it all through Expedia from the start. Mind you, I was reading this week about a new ruling from the People's Republic of Europe that says if you are ill while on holiday, you can claim back your holiday and take it later. As you can generally rely on picking up some variation of airplane flu while travelling, maybe I'll be able to stay there until Christmas. They say the weather is nice there in the autumn.

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Another Bowl of Peeled Grapes Please, Waiter