Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Monday, March 30, 2009

Passport problems (nearly) prevent Easter holiday

Passport & Immigration Service
We're due off to our Brittany holiday home on next Sunday for two weeks over the Easter holidays. I'm hoping it'll be a great break, and will certainly be well deserved as I've been working 70+ hour weeks for the last month or so with the pressures in trying to deliver a large project at work.

Completely unrelated to our impending holiday I pulled the passports out on Saturday to use as proof of identity for our eldest son Toby (who's now 10) to open his first bank savings account.

Horror of horrors I realised that Toby's passport had run out in January. For some reason I thought that I had to renew one of the passports in May so hadn't bothered looking recently.

Off to the post office to get the requisite forms which didn't give me many clues as to how to expedite getting the passport renewed so I phoned the Passport Service up as they've got a handy 24-hour advice line (0300 222 0000).

My options were limited. I could either put the renewal in the post and chance it that the new passport comes back in less than the quoted three Standard week service, I could go for the one-week Fast Track service, or I could just stump up and opt for the same day Premium service.

Decided to go for surety with the Premium service. Fortunately there's a passport office in Peterborough and Liz has to drive through Peterborough on Friday to take our dog to the in-laws for his Easter holiday so I made an appointment over the phone for Friday. We have to drop the completed passport form, photos, old passport, etc off at the appointment time, and all going well the new passport will be ready 4 hours later.

Unfortunately there's a price for such speedy service, £94 instead of the normal £46 for a child's passport renewal (further details of Passport office fees on their website).

OK so that was sorted, all I needed now was a new photo, endorsed as being a 'true likeness' by a "suitably qualified" person. Fortunately a friend of mine in the village is a teacher and can sign the photo and the form for me.

Took a photo of Toby in the garden and then spent ages with Photoshop cutting out the background details from the photo (memo to self, don't take picture of kids standing in front of the shed door next time - choose a blank background!). Printed it out, measured it, it looked good but needed to be a bit bigger.

Printed the picture a bit bigger and then next disaster, the printer ran out of coloured ink! A black, white and red photo is not going to be acceptable to the Passport agency methinks.

Hunt around for a spare ink cartridge. Eventually find it but that one doesn't work either. Clean, super-clean and prime the new cartridge and it still doesn't work.

Shake the old ink cartridge to see if there's any ink still in it, still not working properly.

Beginning to get a bit desperate by now ....

Ah-ha. Go down stairs and pinch the printer off the kids computer. Plug it into my computer in the study, install the printer drivers, and success, two decent sized photos of Toby.

By now it was nearing 11pm but fortunately my friend hadn't gone to bed so I went round and he signed the application form and back of one of the photos.

All "challenges" over now, the paperwork's done, the photos are ready, and we're all set for Friday's passport office appointment. Just hope Liz can find the office OK!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

€360m P&O contract for two new ferries

Like Brittany Ferries in 2007 spending €81m on Amorique which recently started operating on their Plymouth-Roscoff route, it seems that P&O have some spare cash as well, as a P&O press release reveals that they've just signed a €360 million contract for two new ferries.

Due to be delivered in December 2010 and September 2011 the two 49,000 gross tonnes ferries will become the largest car-passenger ferries operating on the Dover-Calais route and will replace two of P&O's existing ferries, the Pride of Dover and the Pride of Calais.

Each boat will be 210 metres long, will provide some 2,700 lane metres of vehicle space and accommodate some 195 cars, 180 lorries/coaches and 2,000 passengers.

As well as the usual claims for improved fuel efficiency ("through a hydro-dynamically efficient hull form" ... whatever that means) these two boats are also claimed to be the first passenger ferries in the world to comply with new International Maritime Organisation "Safe Return to Port" requirements which are due to become compulsory for all vessels built after 1st July 2010.

These IMO rules will require that, in the event of a major system failure onboard a ship, that basic services continue to be provided to all persons on board, and that sufficient redundancy is provided to enable certain systems to remain sufficiently operational for the ship to safely return to port.

There's different standards for different ship systems including fire-fighting, power supply, propulsion, steering and navigation. The two new P&O ferries will have a PSMR (Propulsion and Steering Machinery Redundancy) rating so that in the event of failure the ship retains sufficient propulsion power and manoeuvring capability for it to provide a safe return to port.

Formerly known as Aker shipyard (when they built Brittany Ferries' Amorique), and now called STX Europe, construction of the two ferries started on 3rd March 2009 with the ceremonial cutting of the first steel plate at STX Europe's yard in Rauma, Finland and is expected to take some 1,800 man years of work to complete the two vessels!

Further details and a high-resolution image of the new boat and construction press release are on STX Europe's website.

Clearly the ferry companies still see sufficient long-term profits in the cross-channel routes to make this kind of massive financial investment, which is good news as long as we passengers don't see the cost reflected in our ticket prices.

As I wrote this article I mused that Brittany Ferries spent €81m on their boat in 2007 and I notice that P&O have to spend €360m two years later, admittedly for two boats not one, but I can't see that the specification is that vastly different to justify P&O having to spend €100m more than Brittany Ferries, per boat.

I've always thought that Brittany Ferries have the best equipped boats on the cross-channel routes (they have to be as the Western Channel crossing time is that much longer than the Eastern crossing via Dover), so perhaps BF got an absolute bargain, perhaps the cost of steel has gone through the roof, or perhaps P&O are just not such good negotiators??

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Still no launch news from Euroferries

Last week Euroferries website tantalisingly started saying that "Fares, online ticket reservations and further information will appear on week commencing 16th March".

Well by my reckoning it's now (as at Friday 20th March, 7:50pm) definitely past "week commencing" and there's still no further details about their proposed fast ferry service from Ramsgate to Boulogne.

To whet your appetite, there's some pictures of the boat that they'll be using out of the water at Ramsgate harbour over on "The Big Blog", a local Kent-area Blog.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Times article - day trippers to France beating the credit crunch

Dover day trippers

Earlier in the week I read an interesting article in The Times which I've now found on their website telling of the Dover Day trippers who are taking "advantage" of the extra time the credit crunch is giving them by indulging in a bit of offshore retail therapy.

It seems that there's some people (fondly known in the ferry industry as 'car park shoppers') who take a day trip run to France but don't actually even leave the boat and just spend the entire crossing either in the bar or the duty free shop.

Despite reduced duty free discounts it's still cheaper to buy your drinks and cigarettes on board the boat at French prices than it is to pay the full taxed price in the UK - hence a new legion of shoppers who consider a cross-channel trip to be a nice day out.

I have to admit that as a family we used to do a similar thing when I was much younger, my Dad would drive us down from Stockport to Dover, which is in itself a 6 hour drive, we'd go over to Boulogne or Calais for the day, stock up at a nearby hypermarket and enjoy some lovely food in a restaurant or two, and then head back on the late ferry for an overnight drive home.

Maybe that was where a love of French cuisine and the seeds of wanting to own my own house in France was sown?

Further details in the Times' article and current day trip offers from P&O Ferries, Sea France and Norfolk Line on their websites.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Moneybookers - free foreign transfers - 7 day offer

I've written about Moneybookers before on this Blog, back in July 2007 when I explained how to setup an account for low cost international money transfers (roughly 1.80 EUR per transfer), and in November last year when I noticed that Moneybookers had slightly increased their transfer charges.

Today I received an email from them MoneyBookers telling me that they're refunding all transfer transaction fees for the next 7 days - either the next upload of funds (which is free from the UK) or overseas transfer, whichever comes first.

Seeing as I was thinking of transferring some money over to France anyway to pay for our forthcoming Easter holiday spending and to cover the monthly payments of electricity, water, local taxes and changeover cleaning fees, I acted a bit quicker and transferred some money over straight away.

I know it's only a few Euros saving but as the man on the telly says, "every little helps" !

PS: Offer only runs for the next 7 days so be quick !

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

SpeedFerries SpeedOne judicial sale goes ahead

SpeedFerries SpeedOne
Back in January I wrote with details of SpeedFerries administrators proposals which included selling SpeedOne which was pretty much the only asset that the company had left, although there was some £12m owed to various creditors including Bank Of Scotland and Incat (the Australian manufacturers).

I read tonight on Lloyds List that judicial sale of the boat will now go ahead following representations to the High Court in London on Thursday.

Lloyds goes on to comment that in the current "market conditions" it's unlikely that the creditors will be able to recoup all their debt when the boat is sold.

On a more positive note there's announcements on both BBC News and Kent Online of a new Ramsgate to Boulogne service that EuroFerries are starting from March 31st.

The EuroFerries service is due to run four times a day and take 75 minutes for the crossing. Unfortunately there's no further details of the service or pricing on EuroFerries website yet.

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