Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A New Adventure (Conclusion)

My wife Lydia  and I just returned from our first trip out of the Philippines since relocating here over five years ago. It turns out that the concerns that I mentioned in my previous post "A New Adventure" were baseless. Our I-cards (along with valid passports of course) got us through Immigration upon both leaving and returning in just a few minutes  It took a bit longer when exiting the country because of the P2,880  per person yearly departure tax transaction  for which we were prepared anyway.  Also it helps that  the tax collection agent  is at the same window as the immigration officer. The process would have taken even less time if we hadn't fallen into the wrong line upon our arrival at NAIA.

On our return trip, the plane was full, and I was concerned that this would result in a huge traffic jam at immigration at NAIA, along with baggage retrieval delays and competition for taxis. As it turns out, it really wasn't bad at all. None of these areas were congested. However, airport taxi fares are quite a bit more expensive (more than double the rate) than their counterparts that ply the streets of  Metro-Manila. 

The vacation itself was a wonderfully unforgettable experience. We went on several tours in both London and Paris. Still, we barely scratched the surfaces of these great cities.  We were also satisfied with the service that we received on our flights via Cathay Pacific to and from our destination. 

I don't understand how anyone can travel abroad and not take home a new perspective on the world. Yet I know of people, Filipino and American tourists alike,  who have visited other countries and  come home completely unaffected by their travels.  For example while overseas, they patronize restaurants that serve only the dishes that they get at home and hang only with their fellow nationals rather than sample the local culture.  With that kind of mentality, why even go abroad in the first place?

It's unlikely that Lydia and I will ever be able to afford to go to Europe again. But it's that very circumstance that will make this vacation  all the more special. And we'll still be able to revisit London and Paris any time we want to—in our memories.

Photos of our trip are posted on Shutterfly.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A New Adventure

Last November my wife Lydia and I celebrated our  40th wedding anniversary; so we decided to treat ourselves to a once in a lifetime trip to Europe. Planning and executing this excursion has been a learning experience and an ordeal in itself.

Once we decided exactly where on the Continent we wanted to visit (London and Paris), out next step was selecting a reliable service that provides group tours to these locations. Based on a friend's suggestion, we opted for a company called Trafalgar Tours.  Since this organization mainly services clients who are traveling  from the US, our next step was to contact (what turns out to be) Trafalgar's only  representative agency in the Philippines: Pan Pacific Travel Corp which is located in Metro-Manila to book our itinerary.

This is where the fun began. When I called in our information to this agency, it turned out that the agent misspelled our last name when transcribing it to the airline, Singapore Airlines; and I wasn't aware of this error until  I reviewed an online detail of the airline reservations. Correcting it required cancellation of the original air reservations and re-booking  the flight (and of course the tour as well) to a later date and a different airline, Cathay Pacific.  This is because Singapore considers a name change (even if it's a correction) as a new passenger booking,  and the original flight was already sold out except for standby,  which we  waited in vain for several days to see if that status could be changed to confirmed.. To complicate the issue, the agent dragged her feet about getting us more suitable arrangements at the original ticket price,  and it took a letter to the vice president of the firm to get that done. We finally settled on a departure date of March 9.

Then I had to remind the travel agent to send me the the Trafalgar documents which she should have done earlier on her own without my prompting and  which upon arrival were incomplete . Pan Pacific is very hard to contact as their phone lines are always busy, so I sent her an email about the missing papers.  I never did get a response.

Our next step was securing exit and re-entry permits from the Bureau of Immigration.  These documents are required for almost all non-citizens who are leaving and returning to the Philippines.  The question was whether we had to go to the BI main office in Intramuros and jump through bureaucratic hoops there to secure these papers. According to agents with whom I spoke at BI headquarters and at the airport, that step is no longer necessary because Lydia and I both hold ACR I-cards.  These supposedly eliminate such hassles that were once required under ACR-ICR document, the forerunner of the I-card. 

So that's where matters stand at this time, one day before our trip, We're packed and  have completed the airline advanced check-in and seat selection.  Now we can only hope that we have dotted all our i's and crossed all our t's to get our journey itself off to a smooth start.