I leave the Crimea

My travel agent
With all of the travel that I do I thought you may be interested in the dealings I have had with my current travel agent, the joys and tribulations and so forth.

I always found when I want to change an Air New Zealand flight that I have major problems. There are no problems if you can find a New Zealand office but you do not find them throughout Europe and Scandinavia and they are nonexistent in any format in the Eastern block. You often find a Lufthansa office, and sometimes as Singapore airlines office, but neither of these are interested or are able to change a New Zealand booking in any way. They always refer you to your travel agent or Air New Zealand.

Usually in my travels I just telephone the airline that my next travel is on and make the change on-the-fly. This time I found that an e-mail to Jodie at The Flight Centre office in Christchurch allowed me to change my flights when I was having problems in the Middle East.

So when I found out that my Grand Daughter was getting married in early December I decided to fly home earlier and this decision was made while I was in the Ukraine. Now the important flights were the homeward flights from London to Christchurch, and at this time the year they are starting to get crowded so I wanted to make the change in plenty of time while there was still seats available. So an e-mail off to Jodie, and that should fix that, think again Ivan, Jodie wrote back saying once I left New Zealand she was unable to do any changes, and I need to contact Air New Zealand direct, Hello remember the Middle East!

So I sent an e-mail to Air New Zealand Air Points and they told me that they were only able to deal with Air Points bookings and that I should contact my travel agent.

So another e-mail to Jodie who came back with the comment that they were deftly unable to change the ticket once I had left New Zealand according to their ticket office and that I need to contact Air New Zealand and not Air Points, Hello remember the Middle East!

So I went along with this procedure and again Air New Zealand told me that they were unable to interfere with a booking made by a travel agent and that I should contact the travel agent direct. At this stage I was beginning to believe that perhaps the airline that I am ticketed to fly with may have a better understanding of the rules of airline travel than some little girl in Christchurch.

So another letter back to Jodie enclosing the latest message from Air New Zealand thinking now something will happen, and after 24 hours with no message I thought I would telephone London direct from my present location, which by this time was Amsterdam, I got through to Air New Zealand and again they explained that their office in New Zealand could do nothing because that was the travel agents area but they at the departure location, were able to make the change for me which they did in a few moments. So I sent an e-mail off to Jodie telling her of my success.

Later the following day, I received a reply from Jodie and she said she was glad that Air New Zealand finally came to the party, and that while she was more than willing to help me (oh yes) the rules were that once I had left New Zealand she was unable to do anything, she when on to say that had she done something it would have been deemed to be unauthorised and my whole itinerary would have been cancelled. Hello remember the Middle East!

I reminded her that she had done changes before, and did not specify when, in a reply was "Yes, that is correct, we have changed other airfares for you before, but each airfare has different rules, last years ticket could have been a
flexible one that allowed changes, this years ticket was not one we could
touch after departure from New Zealand." Hello remember the Middle East!

Well it was too much for me, a peaceloving character, so I collected her e-mail from the Middle East booking change, forwarded it back to her, with the comment Really! And sat back and waited for the reply.

Jodie came back with the sound of amazement in her e-mail, saying is that you learn something everyday, and that the flights she had changed were on the outward part of the travel and it was on the inward sector of the travel that she had now decided was the part that was not able to be changed by her. I wonder why I do not believe her, and I wonder why I believe what Air New Zealand told me. I wonder why I will not be spending my $10,000 with this travel agency in 2005, and I wonder why, I wouldn't be not recommending this agency to any of my friends.

Intreresting….. Amsterdam, I have just tried to change my ticket Madrid - London with British Midlands and THEY also tell me I should go to my travel agent, I think the problem is that the travel agent knows all about the ticket they have issued, where as others can not see all of the conditions that there are on each ticket so the travel agent is the only option. However when I get to Madrid I will be able to front up to the counter, with the ticket and get it changed….. I hope!

Well back to my travels, I left the Crimea on the 10th of November after spending over 80 days in Sevastopol and in that time there was not one day when I had to wear a raincoat, I did take an umbrella with me on 1 or 2 days and used it occasionally on those days, but it has been an exceptional stretch of fine weather particularly when you consider that the rest of Europe has had one of the wettest summers for many years. The locals tell me that this weather is normal for Sevastopol.

The only television I've had to watch, apart from the DVD films I've been hiring, is the BBC news channel, which out of about the 40 channels is the only English speaking channel has been available on the cable TV that is in the apartment. Consequently I have been well in touch with the Presidential Campaign in America, the wars in the various countries, the various BBC productions like HardTalk, Reporters and other programs, they covered a large variety of subjects, and were quite often most informative.

The British definitely have a way with words, one program which was a type of Roundtable, with representatives from some main newspapers in different countries, the woman from the Daily Mirror talking about Kerry, said that he relied on his military service, and made the comment, "he was only in Vietnam for four months 30 years ago, for goodness sake". A man from a German newspaper, talking about the EEC, France's relationship to other members made the comment that as far as France was concerned, they were the rulers of the EEC, the Germans place was to pay for everything and keep quiet.

Another program one of the British speakers used the words "The British acceptance of Meritocracy" and I realised how true that was for the UK in a lot of cases New Zealand. Yes there were some interesting programs on the BBC.

In the days up to leaving, you could not help but notice how much shorter the days were getting, how much cooler the weather was, and how the mode of dress was switching from summer mode to winter mode. The teenagers on parade every morning at the War Memorial were now in their winter Cadet uniforms, the women in the town, were now wearing overcoats, most of them ankle length, quite a few made out of leather, and many have switched from their high-heeled shoes, to high-heeled boots. As it was only Autumn quite a number still had Mini dresses underneath their thick long overcoats.

Having sold shoes for many years (not that you would guess from my writings) I decided to check out some shoe shops to see the quality of the shoes and the prices paid. I found that most of the high heeled shoes that have been incredibly thin high heels, where Italian shoes of high-quality, and they were selling for about NZ$334. The incredibly designed high-heeled boots from the same country were selling for marginally more. There were also high-heeled shoes and boots from Hungary which were about a third the price, and some made in Russia under Italian license for about NZ$111. Both of these cheaper brands looked fine to me, however the good Italian shoes that have a edge to them and looks and design.

Walking around the streets of Sevastopol on a daily basis, you started to recognise some of the locals, and that was quite a few that had their street positions from where they begged everyday. I wondered whether this was a new occurrence since the end of the old Soviet system and I was told no there were beggars on the streets even those days of everyone being equal, and food for all.

Is interesting visiting the churches, most have either been just refurbished or were in the process of having that done. Some had been used as warehouses, others for army barracks, or for any other use other than what they were designed. All the one's I looked at were of the Russian Orthodox branch of Christianity, and unfortunately all the books they have on sale were of course written in Russian. It is obvious that there are very few tourists yet in the Crimea because all of the tourist sites have almost nothing in English or any other language except Russian.

I did see in the distance a Muslin Mosque which would have of course been for the Crimean Tartars, they were now returning to the Crimea from Kazakhstan where they had been deported to by Stalin.

I went throughout a few museums whilst I was in Sevastopol, a lot of them were very heavy into the various wars that have flowed through this area, with the majority of the space devoted to the Great Patriotic War that we call the Second World War. There was a great deal of space given to the various people were fought during the war, the items from their possession like the guns they had used, their medals, the uniforms, many photos of them and so forth. You can't help getting the impression from the museums and the War memorials, the way in which flowers are always at the memorials that the people that gave their lives for their country are remembered more on a daily basis than what I've experienced in the West.

Well eventually the day arrived to carry on my travel, so it was a matter of finding a hotel in Simferopol and as the plane departed at 7:20 AM my first thought was to get one near the airport. Yes there was a hotel at the airport but the only rooms they had available was a room with a bed with a communal toilet and bathroom. Simferopol Airport Hotel 8 065 2 29 53 37 The cost was $NZ6.96, so I decided to give that pass and stayed at the Hotel Ukraine in the city. They had two qualities of room, a small room for $NZ55.71 in the larger one for $NZ72.42, both had bathrooms. I opted for the more expensive one, and when I finally saw it could not imagine what the smaller room would have been like, as this was itself a very small. Simferopol Ukraine Hotel 8 065 2 51 01 65

With the hotel arranged it is just a matter now of getting through to Simferopol from Sevastopol. The going rate for a new local taxi was $NZ40.38 and as I been in contact with Eugene (my guide from last year) finding our out about hotel details asked them if he wanted the taxi job, his reply was "no thank you" business must be better working with the American tourists.

Well the taxi was almost new, the driver's name was Ivan, a most unusual name, he is one of the best drivers I've experienced in the Ukraine, Eugene included. He arrived at a little early, but we were ready and waiting, and we got through to Simferopol in good time, in time to get the five o'clock rush hour, and after asking a few people we finally found the hotel and checked in. The girl at registration, was fluent in English, and after taking my money gave me the good news that I was on the fourth floor, and there was no elevator, the hotel was under renovation, she said, which implied there may be an elevator in the future. There were however two porters that would carry my luggage to my room with ease, my suitcase was currently weighing 31.6 kilo so I was pleased to see the porters after the no elevator news.

The front desk we were told is open 24 hours of the day and later I noticed that the porters were on duty for the same period of time, they did have a Casino in the Hotel which may have explained the 24 hour bit, and another factor may of course been the low wages versus the Western prices for room rates. No they did not accept credit cards, but cash would be quite acceptable.

The train left for Rostov at 12:20 a.m. so we went for a walk around the city, looked in some other shops of the still open, it was bitterly cold but as the temperature was still on the plus side of the scale no one really appeared to notice. We then went on to have a very nice meal at a very nice cafe which cost NZ$9.64 for as both, drinks included. Is was interesting to note at the next table 3 men who when we arrived were drinking beer then they switched to vodka with mineral water chasers and hors d'oeuvres with plenty of raw onions, they had this full bottle sitting on the table like a Western movie, and they poured their own drinks into shot glasses which they downed in one gulp, they looked like middle executives, but they still made short work of the first bottle of vodka, and were well into the second bottle at the time we left. It would be interesting to have stayed and counted the final number of bottles.

It was then time for a taxi to the station, on previous trips to the station I've always manage to get the taxi to wait but on this occasion he said he would return and then wait. I gave him my time I expect to be backed by and went off to put Luda and the luggage on the train. The train was waiting at the platform with all of the service personnel inside and of course the doors were locked and they would be opened 30 minutes before departure. So was matter of waiting until the service personnel were ready to let the passengers on the train, which they eventually decided to do, it is interesting to note they did this at different times depend upon the carriage, naturally there were no lights on, on the train so you struggle with your luggage through the narrow aisle until you get to the four person Cabin and of course there were other people trying to get their luggage into the cabin at the same time, stow it away, so it becomes a little bit like a circus.

Eventually I made it back to the taxi some 30 minutes late, and fortunately he was still there, back to the hotel, I asked him the cost and he gave me the price of just the cost from the hotel to the station and was not going to charge me for waiting time. It was only 10Hvr ($NZ2.78) so I gave him 30Hvr ($8.38) and he looked at the money in his hand, pointed the money to his chest, and I said yes, and he went away looking extremely happy.

I set all my alarm clocks or 5:30 a.m. was awake in time, showered and packed, and struggled downstairs with my luggage, going downhill is definitely easy. The taxi was there in a few minutes, out to the airport where I was one of the first to check in, the first part they have a pair of commercial scales with which they weigh everybody's luggage, then scratch around to find a seat number for you, you then carry your luggage to x-ray where everything is x-ray, you go through the metal detector, then you collect all of your luggage and fortunately a man appears to take your checked luggage, off to, you hope, eventually the plane.

I was early so it was quite a long wait, fortunately I realised I was sitting next to an American couple so we had quite a good long chat whilst we were waiting for the boarding call. They had been in Simferopol for the past year and were doing research into the Crimean Tartars, it is interesting to get an outsiders view of the Tartars after having heard the Ukrainian's view on how bad they were.

Eventually the bus arrived to take us to the plane, which was a DC9 which is of course a McDonald Douglas build aircraft, however the travel agent had listed it as a Boeing, which was probably close enough as far as they were concerned. As a short flight to Kiev, but a very long taxiing process once we had landed at Kiev, it must be one of the largest airports as far as land is concerned for the least number of the aircraft that I have been on. I assume it was originally an airport for the Russian Federation air force.

We arrived at 9 a.m. and the Lufthansa ticket office opened at the 11 a.m. so I found my American friends and chatted with them until their plane was called at 1045 when I stood in line outside the Lufthansa office to let eventually opened at the 11. Fortunately I was second in line, my original ticket was for the 14th Nov and was due to fly to Amsterdam via Munich at the wonderful time of 7:20 a.m. yes they could change the ticket for today's flight at 2 p.m. via Frankfurt, which made a lot more sense to me. The boarding call was not until 12 noon so it was again a matter of cooling one's heels until that time.

Eventually was time to go through customs to the check-in counter, and I was asked for my original customs declaration when I arrived in the country. I had this stage had no idea where it was, I remember seeing it in the last couple of days, but did not know where it was. The officer asked me how much money I had, I never know for sure, So said about $1000. He then said "show me", and I knew from the look in his eye, that I did if I not produce more than $1000 I was due for a strip search. Pulled out my wallet, countered that, then my travellers cheques, and at that point he said you'll have to make out a new declaration and go through the goods to declare channel.

So back out of line to a counter, where I pulled out all of the 12 different currencies I had, counted the major ones, then went back into the line, where the new officer, again asked me for my original declaration, and I told him the same story, which at that point he informed me that I was allowed to take out with me $1000 only. I said what do I do with the rest? He said give it to some of your friends here at the airport, I told him I had nobody at the airport, he said we will keep it here at customs for three years and you can claim that when you come back. I said I may not be back! That was the end of it as far as he was concerned, so I realised I was going to have to do that, and called him how do I leave the money here? He took me out into a small room and said a officer will be here in a few minutes.

So while I was waiting I laid out my 12 different currencies out into piles, and waited, the officer arrived, looked at my declaration and said it is not all listed, So then we discussed what the unlisted Currencies were worth, and I could see him thinking of all the paperwork for the various currencies that he was going to have to go through and after about 30 minutes he said I am finished. I said I can go? He said yes, but do not throw away your declaration next time, I thought you can be sure of that.

The next was plain sailing, check-in was just a matter of getting in line, as it was a country where everyone was equal, there was no business class check-in, but they did have a new business class lounge which was not there 12 months ago. Nothing of English to read there of course but at least you could sit down in comfort and you had an opportunity of checking your e-mail.

Flight to Frankfurt uneventful, had to walk for miles at Frankfurt airport from international, where I landed, to domestic where I would be taking off. There were a lot of alterations that were happening in the corridors which means walking instead of riding the people mover, eventually got to terminal A and the business class lounge, which was packed, and so on to Amsterdam where eventually I was reunited with my luggage.

Then I telephoned Hank, after a couple of false starts not knowing the correct prefixes, and Hank said he would be there to collect me in about 30 minutes, Hank arrived, took me to his home, where I enjoyed his and Yvonne's incredible hospitality for the next few days. I went with Hank to the computer show which happens every year for three days, we went on one of the quiet days which meant there only about three rows of people around every stand but we both had a good time looking at all the toys that were available.

Last year I bought a number of bow ties when I was in Den Haag, so Hank took me through there and I was able to add 12 new ties to my collection. The details of the shop are De Beau Tie shop, Telephone 070-3462179 Address Gravenstraat 1, 2513 AK Den Haag E-mail beautie@planet.nl http://www.beautie.nl/

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