(written by Dave)
The first step of our new convoluted trip to the continent was a success. By bike and train, we’ve moved down the coast from Newlyn to Plymouth. We probably didn’t need to stop here in Plymouth as our original ferry from Plymouth to Spain is not sailing anytime soon. On the off chance that the strike is settled over the weekend we’ve decided to hang out here before moving onto Poole on Monday and taking a ferry there to Cherbourg, France.
We also got some good news from the train station where we spoke to the ticket office. We purchased tickets through the train company’s call centre yesterday. The conversation with the call centre in India went something like this:
Me: I’d like to purchase two tickets for two people and two bicycles from Plymouth to Poole
CC: OK, we can do that, with a transfer in Castle Cary
Me: Ok, can I have reserved seats for two people and two bikes on both trains?
CC: Yes on the first train, No on the second one
Me: How does that work, you are selling me a ticket from Plymouth to Poole?
CC: There are no bike spots or reserved seats on the Castle Cary train
Me: Then what ticket are you selling me?
CC: Tickets Plymouth to Poole , you can go on Castle Cary to Poole on a first come, first serve basis
Me: What happens if there is no space for me?
CC: There should be space
Me: What happens if there is room for us, but not our bikes?
CC: you’ll have to leave your bikes
Me: That won’t work
CC: Silence – the script didn’t cover that response, followed by: Maybe you shouldn’t take your bikes…
We went round and round in circles for quite some time. We are on a speaker phone and Nancy had to leave the room so the call centre fellow did not hear her laughing. Eventually I gave up and said we’d buy the tickets and take our chances. Not the kind of travel arrangements that let Nancy sleep well at night.
So, today we got to the station and spoke with a local ticketing agent. The agent gave us reserved tickets for both trains. On the first train we had reserved spaces to sit and reserved spaces for our bikes. On the second train we had space reserved, but not specific spaces. That is, our tickets gave us reserved capacity but not actual spots. So the call centre folks were accurate but completely incapable of understanding that we did not “get” what they were saying. The call centre agents spoke perfect English, probably better than I do. The trouble is that they did not understand subtle meanings of words they were using. We spoke to at least three different agents in the First Great Western Trains call centre. Same result. I did the first call, Nancy the second, then me the third – I drew the short straw. In my professional career I’ve worked with and introduced several off-shore call centres. I still think that those decisions were correct but if I do this again in the future, I’ll certainly test my centres more regularly.
Ok, enough about call centres. As I said, we are happy with how the tickets seemed to have worked out. The train ride today was fine except that they made us unload our bikes, put them in the guard’s car and then carry our 12 bags to the passenger car. The guard told us that we had to do this because it was the rules. He couldn’t have his 6 bike space filled up with our two bikes. I asked him to check if any other bike reservations had been made. He mumbled yes but didn’t really check and it was clear that he was just playing “rule book”. When we reached Plymouth one other bike loaded. Until then, there were no other bikes and we could have left our bags on the bike. When I went to get the bikes off at Plymouth the guard saw me come into his car, looked the other way and made busy until I left. In the end, it worked out fine but it was a lot of extra effort for us. At least now we know the game the Great Western plays and we’ll be ready for them on Monday. Phew, glad that was over. No really, it was not a bad first leg, sometimes you just have to smile and not get to smarmy – as Nancy thankfully keeps reminding me 🙂
We found our B&B in Plymouth with ease. We were early but the hosts were great. We are right on the edge of the city centre with the harbour foreshore on the other side. Great location and Plymouth is a nice looking city from what we’ve seen this afternoon. We went into the city centre to get some stove fuel and groceries before we get to France where we won’t be able to read the labels nearly as easily (must pull out the French books and start reviewing right away).
We were walking back from the city centre to our B&B and we passed a guy on a bike who had a dog in his backpack. As we passed, he asked us to help him zip up the backpack as the dog was falling out. You couldn’t help but think that this was one of those hidden camera TV shows but the guy was legit. While Nancy helped get the dog sorted, I took a photo and started checking out the bike. It was a proper touring bike with all the fancy bits we want on our new bikes. I couldn’t help but ask what the rider was up to. Meet Steve (the rider) and Redge ( the dog). Steve, without Redge has done a lot of touring and was planning a round the world trip starting next year. We exchanged stories for a while, along with contact details. We may see Steve in a couple years when he makes it to Sydney. At this point Redge is not signed up for the RTW cycle. In fact, I think Redge was so bored with our little bicycle touring chat that he fell asleep in the backpack while we swapped stories.
So, tomorrow we are in Plymouth, where we will be busy planning the first week or so in France. We still want to spend more time in the south so we are looking at trains to get us part of the way down (due to limited number of days left of our Schengen time). Most of the trains departing up north go through Paris and we’d rather not do this. So we are thinking of riding south at least far enough to be below Paris connections. I know, life is hard, we’ll be in France and we are worried about Paris. Ok, no more complaining about call centers in future posts. Our life is pretty easy in the grand scheme of things.
Monday is the big travel day with three trains and a ferry but we’ll not worry about it tomorrow. That’s the plan anyway.