Tag Archives: Sixt Car Hire

Northern Ireland, A Walk on The (Wild) Bogside.

Londonderry Wall Mural

It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  The view from our room was over the Catholic Bogside area which looked peaceful enough today but has had a recent bloody and violent contribution to the Troubles.  Indeed some historians identify Londonderry/Derry/Stroke City as being the very crucible of the civil war.

In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution and the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. Despite having a nationalist majority the city was permanently controlled by unionists due to the partisan drawing of electoral boundaries. In addition the city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing. Overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the unionist government, who wanted to confine Catholics to a small number of electoral wards to effectively restrict their influence.

In August 1969 following the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys Parade Nationalists clashed with police in an incident remembered now as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’ which directly led to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and the intervention of the British Army.

Worse was to come on Sunday January 30th 1972 when during a Catholic civil rights march thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, another thirteen were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

This incident remains an open wound between the two factions and the British Army but the current official verdict was delivered by the Saville Commission which was published in June 2010.

The report concluded, “The firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control” fatally shooting fleeing civilians.  The report states, contrary to the previously established belief that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them and that the civilians were not posing any threat.  Not the British Army’s finest hour!

Londonderry Bloody Sunday Wall Mural

Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our hotel was the very place where the Bloody Sunday confrontation took place so walked down the hill from the fortress walls and saw three famous monuments, ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’, a message painted on the gable end of a row of terraced houses, long since demolished, the Bloody Sunday memorial itself and a third monument remembering the Maze prison notorious now for internment without trial, hunger strikes and the death place of the most famous hunger striker of all, Bobby Sands.

As in Belfast there are guided tours of the Bogside but we choose to do this by ourselves and although it felt quite safe on the busy main road I do admit to  becoming uneasy whenever we strayed into the side streets where signs invited the British to ‘Get Out Now’ and others encouraged local people to join the IRA.

We weren’t put off by this however because we wanted to see the murals, works of urban art really and quite different from those in West Belfast.  These were less political statements but a visual telling of the story of the Bogside troubles.  The political statements were there too but these were smaller information boards which told a sectarian and one sided story.

I am glad that I walked down to see this but after thirty minutes or so I was happy to leave and walk back now to the old city.

There was still an hour to spare before our check out time and ninety minute drive to the airport so while Kim returned to the hotel I took advantage of these final moments by walking the walls for a second time and having visited the Catholic Bogside took a detour into the Protestant Fountains estate where I found the murals and the political slogans a great deal more sectarian and aggressive and I didn’t stay long.

Londonderry/Derry Wall Mural

Our drive back to Belfast International Airport was slow going but uneventful and eventually we arrive back at the Sixt car rental office.  Now, if you remember my first day post about this trip to Northern Ireland you might recall that I had paid for fully comprehensive insurance and was confident that I had got everything covered.

Not quite!

A member of staff examined the car and satisfied himself that there were no bumps or scrapes, no chips in the windscreen and that the tyres weren’t flat and punctured, nothing  that is that he could charge me for, and we turned to walk away but were staggered when he called us back and said that there was some sand in the carpets and that there could be a £60 cleaning charge.  Now, I am not disputing that we had walked on a beach and transferred some sand from our shoes to the car but the quantity was minute and you really needed a microscope to find it.

“£60” I protested and almost choked and he defended this bit of daylight robbery with an explanation that this sort of sand was especially difficult to deal with.  I noticed that there was funny smell and I remided him that I am Sixt Platinum custumer and he backed down and said not to worry because  the quantity was on the margins of acceptability and he would not charge us this time.

Just as well because if he had I would have asked for the keys back and taken it to a vacuum machine in the next door garage and sucked it up myself for £2 no matter how difficult it might have been (not).  In case he changed his mind I actually thanked him for not mugging me but I quickly returned to the car and wiped the steering wheel just in case there was a charge for removing fingerprints!  These thieves will try anything to generate additional revenue.

So we made our way to the airport and the departure lounge and in the time we had to wait I started to think about the few days away and began to compare it with the previous year visit to Southern Ireland…

Car Hire Misadventures – The Driving Licence

Winter Tyres in the Black Forest

In the laudable programme to reduce Government excess spending, from Monday June 8, the paper part of the UK driving licence – which shows details of restrictions and penalties – will be scrapped.

This really shouldn’t be  problem but it is anticipated that this might be a nuisance for people who want to hire holiday cars outside of the UK.

I really can’t remember the last time that I was aked to produce my paper copy of the licence.  But, let me predict that all of a sudden car hire firms will discover that this is a requirement of hire and I bet there will be a charge involved.

Never trust a car hire company!

Car Hire Crete

 

Iceland, Car Hire and Volcano Damage

Iceland Volcano

As a sort of postscript to my previous post I started to think about other dangerous volcano areas that I have visited and where it may not be a good idea to take a hire car if there is a genuine threat of paint stripping damage.

Firstly Mount Vesuvius near Naples in Italy:

Vesuvius the crater

Mind you, you would probably consider yourself spectacularly unlucky if the thing went off while you were on a tourist visit to the top of the crater.  But then don’t forget that it is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years and that was in 1944 when it destroyed a handful of communities and an entire United States bomber squadron, which makes you wonder why they didn’t just take off and go somewhere else!

Second, Timanfaya or Fire Mountain on the Spanish Island of Lanzarote:

Parque Nacional de Timanfaya Lanzarote

When I visited this volcanic site we arrived at the visitor’s car park and that was as far as you could drive into the park and there I tagged on to some coach party trips and watched several demonstrations by a sun gnarled old man with a face of weathered leather and  hands with knotted knuckles of ‘how hot‘ the area is because temperatures just a few metres below the surface here reach between 400°C and 600°C!   First of all he threw dry brush into a harmless looking hole in the ground and it immediately caught fire, while water poured into a bore hole erupted seconds later in the form of steam – like a mini-geyser and he finished this off by demonstrating a natural gas vent that doubled as a BBQ!

Also in the Spanish Canary Islands on nearby Tenerife there is the still active volcano Mount Teide  which I visited in 1989:

Mount Teide Tenerife

The summit of Mount Teide at just over three thousand, seven hundred metres is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic.  At 7,500 m from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world and its altitude makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world (although to be fair this is another of those biggest, largest, highest statistics to be wary of). It remains active: its most recent eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the north-western Santiago rift. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide what they call a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns.

Finally and probably the most dangerous of all, Yellowstone National Park in the USA:

Yellowstone is a super volcano called a caldera (which is Latin for cauldron) that are so explosive that they just burst open and blow everything away in one almighty blast of truly biblical proportions.  And this event would be so huge that it is the reason why previous eruptions have not left behind a classic volcanic mountain, like say Vesuvius or Mount Etna.

The Yellowstone caldera measures nine thousand square kilometers and the crater is almost sixty-five kilometers across, so as you can probably imagine that would have been one almighty explosion!  Luckily these super volcanoes don’t go off very often, the last time was six hundred and thirty thousand years ago, but if it did explode you would definitely want to stand well back because one thing to be sure is that nothing for thousands of miles around would survive and the paint stripping insurance for the hire car would be completely irrelevant and a total waste of money.

 

Italy and Puglia, Alberobello to Ostuni to Bari

Puglia T Towel Map

On Saturday we woke early, packed our bags, went for a final breakfast at the Trulli Holidays reception room, checked out and promised them a maximum ten points assessment on the booking.com website and then transferred the luggage to the car and left.  We had enjoyed Alberobello and when I returned home I was true to my word and gave the accommodation top marks.

It was only a short drive to Ostuni and when we arrived there I was really, really glad to be able to return the car.  The man at the hire car desk silently checked the documents and then looked up and with just a momentary look of threat and anticipation in his eyes asked one simple question “what damage to car?” as though this was surely inevitable.  I told him that I was absolutely certain that there was none and he looked at me as though I was the World’s biggest liar and came round from behind the desk and went off to check.  He inspected both inside and out and then had to concede that there was no damage and then, with a look that had turned from anticipation to disappointment, almost reluctantly it seemed to me, signed off the hire release papers.

Because we had enjoyed our first night there and one morning had simply not been long enough we were now moving back to Bari and this meant going back to the trains for transportation and I was relieved and delighted in equal measures that someone else would now be doing the driving and so while we waited for the Trenitalia train to arrive we sat in the sun at the station bar and had a couple of beers.

I had found a good bargain at a Spa hotel a little way out of the city so when we arrived at Bari station, being unsure of the location, we broke a golden holiday rule and hailed a taxi.

Bari Puglia Italy

I am not happy about breaking this rule especially when the fare came to €10, bust the daily budget and nearly broke my heart but I was mighty glad that we hadn’t attempted to walk it!  The hotel, a once grand mansion on the edge of the city, was quite a lot further out of town than I had imagined it would be and as the taxi continued to drive further and further away from the centre it became quite clear that there was absolutely no chance of walking back into Bari for evening meal but never mind we thought that we might eat at the hotel instead.

It was a lovely hotel with a very good room but when I enquired about the restaurant I was informed that it had closed down for the season a few days previously.  Oh dear it was beginning to look like more taxi fares again later.  Once again, never mind, this afternoon we would use the Spa facilities while we considered our options.  Not a chance because these were closed as well with conflicting stories from the staff about break downs and/or refurbishment depending upon who was making the excuses.

I was annoyed by this and tried to cancel the third night but the hotel staff were reluctant to allow this and I couldn’t find a suitable alternative anyway within our skinflint price budget and so we had to resign ourselves to three nights marooned miles from anywhere on the edge of the city.

Never mind, we would now use the outside pool facilities and have a lunch time snack but once again not a chance of that either because the pool side snack bar was closed and everything was packed and locked away and for certain would be staying that way for at least nine months.  I complained again but it made no difference and all I got was more apologies.

So, we had to take a taxi back into the city and going back was even more expensive at €15.  Actually it could have been even worse because when the metre hit €15 I told the driver to stop and we got out, paid and walked the rest of the way to the old town.

Before dining we walked around the city walls for a while and then choose a pizzeria and trying to compensate for the cost of the taxi fare choose a very cheap meal and a pizza between us which seemed to surprise the staff.  I really hate taxis, they are such robbers and all that they achieve is to suck money from the local economy because if I hadn’t spent so much on fares then it is certain that I would have spent more in the restaurant but later we did find enough loose change in the bottoms of our pockets to splash out on an ice cream in a gelataria in the main square.

The main square was just as busy as our first night in Bari with a tsunami of people coming in waves into the old town and then just walking backwards and forwards like an Atlantic tide. This was the  passeggiata where local people descend on the town at dusk and just walk and sometimes stop to talk. Some people had bought fold up garden chairs and were just sitting and chatting, others were playing cards, some were hanging around the bars but mostly they were just walking up and down and around and around and they were still coming in as we battled against the flow and then returned to the hotel rather earlier than normal.

This cost another whopping €12 so when I totted it all up that was €37 in one day on taxi fares – more than I would normally spend in a full year, more than the cost of the fuel for four days car hire!  I needed a lie down and a couple of large amarettos!

Bari Night time Puglia Italy

Italy and Puglia, Ostuni to Alberobello via Locorotondo

Ostuni Puglia Italy

Car Hire in Italy…

The dreadful Nonna Isa had one last sting in the tail for us.  The owner Giorgio assured us that he had arranged for the car hire company, Sixt ,to pick us up, but when, thirty minutes after the agreed time, there was no sign it was fairly obvious that this wasn’t going to happen so resigned to our fate we wheel-bumped our luggage down the uneven cobbled streets and made our way to the bus stop in the main square, the Piazza della Libertà

There was a thirty minute wait so I took the opportunity to have an early Peroni and then the bus was late so there would have been enough time to have two!  Eventually it arrived and took us to the railway station where I abandoned Kim and the luggage and went looking for the car hire office.  Looking at the map it was quite close by but that was as the crow flies and it was a much longer walk than I had at first anticipated and it took me thirty minutes or so to find it hidden away in the middle of an unattractive industrial estate.

As this was Italy I was hoping for an old car with a few battle scars but I was allocated a brand new silver Renault Clio with relatively little damage and after a few brief instructions I was behind the wheel and tentatively nudging my way through the Italian traffic and after being reunited with Kim I predictably took the wrong road and drove for a few kilometres before having to do the sensible thing and turn around.

Italian Drivers…

Once out of Ostuni we were on the open road and I thought I must have gone wrong again because the road surface was appalling with pot holes and bumps, no white lines and a fifty kilometre speed limit but after a short while it became clear that this was indeed the main road.  I stuck to the speed limit but this just had the effect of irritating everyone behind me because to the Italians this seems to be advisory rather than compulsory and most of them were driving at least twice as fast than the limit, usually in animated conversation on their mobile phones and forever overtaking at any precarious opportunity and after only a few kilometres I was beginning to regret the car hire decision.

Ostuni Puglia Italy White City

La Città Bianca, Locorotondo…

After only a short time I was ready for a break so it was lucky that we came across another of La Città Bianca, the charming little town of Locorotondo where we found a huge car park where I was delighted to pull in, leave the car for a while and then walk into the centre.

There was nothing especially remarkable or memorable about Locorotondo but it was peaceful and quiet and the narrow white streets were rather like Ostuni but flatter and without the touristy elements.  We visited the Cathedral and then immediately forgot about it and criss-crossed the old town through its network of lanes and then found a park and a viewing area with views over the agricultural valley decorated with the trulli houses that are a feature of this region.

I will tell you about the Trulli houses later because our next destination was the town of Alberobello where we would be staying in a Trulli house of our own.

We stopped for a drink and a sandwich in a little café in the centre of the town but eventually there was no putting off the remainder of the drive so we returned to the car and pointed it in the direction of Alberobello where we arrived in just a few minutes and, unusually for us, easily found the hotel reception office with the accuracy of a guided missile.

A Trulli in Alberobello…

After a long introduction and plenty of unnecessary advice the receptionist, Francesco, took us to our Trulli about five hundred metres away.  Based on the Nonna Isa experience in Ostuni this was a dry throat, white knuckle moment for me because I don’t think I would have got away with two bad hotels in succession but I needn’t have worried because it was delightful and everything that we had expected as we were introduced to our traditional Trulli with its immaculate whitewashed walls and grey stone bonnet roof.  Kim declared it to be an instant hit and relieved by that I instantly relaxed and opened my suitcase and took the cap off of a bottle of Peroni!

On account of the fact that we were due to stay in Alberobello for four nights we didn’t rush off into the town but stayed around the Trulli and enjoyed the sunshine and then later went walking and looking for somewhere to eat  and to cap off a good day Kim once again demonstrated her uncanny knack of finding a good restaurant and on the edge of town her instinct led us to a small trattoria with a short menu where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and even before we had finished agreed that we would return again tomorrow.

Things were definitely beginning to improve and it was so good to be here that it didn’t even matter that as we ate it started to spit with rain!

Alberobello Sunset Puglia Italy