Thursday, July 24, 2014

London, Here We Come

In just 4 days we will be flying into Heathrow Airport, London for our 10 days walking holiday. For the first time in our travel we are totally dependent on public transport and admittedly it was not easy to plan the ground itinerary when we have obvious limitations, one of which is my osteoarthritic knees which periodically developed unannounced pains. It is an inconvenience that I hope will go away while we are in the UK. God willing, the walking stick I'm bringing on the trip will not be used at all. My optimism and enthusiasm was however somewhat put to test by the tragic shooting down of Malaysia Airline flight MH17 on July 17. Coming just over 4 months after the disappearance of MH370 on March 8 this year, this incident unsettled not only my mind, but thousands of air travelers, in particular those intending to fly MAS. And my daughter and I are in this category. We've bought MAS tickets in May when the airline promoted its fares. But we bought them more because we like its non-stop direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to London and back. There is no transit and waiting in airport lounges and in 13 hours we will be in London. We had pondered over the safety of MAS and its reputation, not so much over the MH370 incident, but also that MAS is bleeding financially. The national airline is on the verge of bankruptcy and will most surely need to be rescued or privatized to give it a new life. Based on its track records, MAS is a safe airline to fly but the MH17 incident is driving many MAS customers away, compounding its losses.

The fact that MAS shifted from flying over Ukraine a designated war zone, to another war zone of Syria has many aviation experts baffled. Why? Are they asking for another incident like MH17 to happen? Why place its crews and passengers at risk? But I believe MAS management have studied the alternative route carefully before making this controversial decision.

Syria unlike Ukraine is only engaged in ground level civil war and therefore most unlikely to fire stray missiles into any aerial targets. On this ground alone I believe the fear is unjustified. In fact long range missiles launched from enemy territory can strike any aircraft inside a friendly air space. Of course I am taking a certain amount of risk by continuing to fly MAS to London on MH4 next Monday. But I am confident that a similar event is unlikely.

Deciding to buy MAS air tickets is putting me to some test. Am I to ride on public opinion and forego the trip, or get a refund (last day today) and buy tickets from another airline? But what certainty is there that MAS plane will crash again, or not another airline? Just today two other airlines reported losses. TransAsia Airway flight GE222 crashed in bad weather landing on the island of Penghu, Taiwan, killing 48 passengers. Read HERE. And Air Algerie flight AH5017 disappeared en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers. There are 110 passengers and 6 crews on board. Did it crashed? Or was it hijacked? The scenario is quite similar to that of MH370. Read HERE.

Is air travel dangerous? With 3 incidents in 7 days travelers may be forgiven if they decide to avoid flying. But in any given time there are thousands of airplanes in the skies so losing three planes in 7 days is a safe record. I'm not going to dwell on negative thoughts but believe that if it has to happen to me, so be it, but the risk is extremely small. I am putting my faith in the competency of the pilots, maintenance crews and on my God. I've always prayed for safe life-offs and landings in every flights I've flown before. The upcoming flight is no different. So we shall board our flight with full confidence that we shall land safely and enjoy our London holiday in the summer time and return to Malaysia to share our experiences.


Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Love Affair with the Cotswolds

It started with an idea. My daughter wants to go to London to finalize a business. She'd always love the UK, being educated there. And she asked if I could be her traveling companion, a father-daughter thing we'd never done before. I felt adventurous and I said yes because I too love the UK.

Cotswolds came to my mind. I'd read about its charm and always want to know how it feels to wander in rural England in summer. My daughter love the idea after googling it. As soon as we've purchased our air tickets I started planning our itinerary in London and how to go to Cotswolds. Our limitation is transport. We have no car, don't plan to rent one. Admittedly I dislike driving in a strange place and we're both poor in directions. So this trip is confined to using public transportation.

Researching the public transport system in London and the greater area I'm dumbfounded by its complexity and inter connectivity. In UK you don't really need a car. Trains, tubes, buses, trams, taxis, ferries, etc will take you anywhere even remotely. You just need to plan your time and your destination.

The first help I went to was TripAdvisor forums. I went to the London forum to ask how to go to Cotswolds. I found most of the day trips start from London. I don't want to be rushed so I opted to stay at the fringe of Cotswolds. I can choose Bath, Cheltenham or Stratford upon Avon. As it is summer hotel rates in Bath are expensive. Between Cheltenham and Stratford I chose the latter for the very simple reason - it was William Shakespeare's birthplace. Next I use Booking.com to search for a nice place to stay. I like Booking because it is user friendly and charge nothing upfront, even if you cancel. I found this lovely place near to the train station. I google map them and like it and booked online for 2 nights stay there. My next mission was to find someone to give us a Cotswolds tour. I knew it was a risk if no tour operators begin their tours from Stratford upon Avon, a very small town. Then we have to use public buses.

So I moved to the Stratford upon Avon forum and asked questions. Folks responded rather quickly. I'm glad there are helpful people willing to share information and experience. I found two leads, one from Sandra the guest house co-owner, the other from the forum. Tom, the guy I was put in touch with through the forum lead, is just about to start his own tour business in the Cotswolds. He is a local and expects to launch it in June which is just nice for me to consider his service. And he operates from Stratford upon Avon. Exactly what I'm looking for. We had several email exchange. He was very prompt and helpful and I like that. I learned that his is the first Cotswolds tour to start from Stratford and we are the first to make a booking. I guess both he and us are looking forward to meeting up. What Tom did will boost the tourist business tremendously as many tourists would prefer a leisurely visit to the Cotswolds from Stratford rather than from London which is 2 hours away. You can check him out at Go Cotswolds.

The rest of our London stay will be free and easy. Aside from sightseeing we plan to see a play and attend church. We are looking forward to this special trip and I'll write more later.

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