Saturday, February 21, 2009

Customs Fees by Post

I was a little surprised on Thursday when I had a postcard delivered in the post indicating there was a package that required £18.92 to be paid in customs fees before I could claim it. It took me a little while to realize this was stuff my sister had sent me that I had accidentally left at her place over Christmas. The fee seemed a little high to me so I did a bit of research and found the following.

Items sent via post have different exclusion rates than items you personally carry into the country. Items over £36 pounds are subject to VAT, items over £105 pounds are subject to Customs duty. My sister had valued the package at $100 which currently is about £70 pounds which meant VAT has to be paid, at a current rate of 15% that is a total of about £10. The remaining £8 is for the Royal Mail International Handling Fee. From what I understand this fee is because the Royal Mail has to process the transaction and send money back to HM Revenue & Customs. I'm sure they're making a tidy profit in here somewhere as well.

What I find slightly more interesting is that this package was received and the customs charges computed on February 10. I did not receive notification that duty was owed until the 19th. Why it took 9 days to get delivered is beyond me. I am just lucky I was home and able to pick this up as they will only hold the item for 7 days before returning it to the sender.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Trip to HEL

I've never realized how fun airport codes can be a few weeks ago I was in SIN, last week I was MAD this week I was in HEL. Maybe these are related.
I actually didn't spend a whole lot of time in Helsinki I arrived at the airport at 11:30 pm Tuesday evening stayed at the Hilton attached to the airport, left at 8 AM for Aland Island returned 12 hours later, straight back to the hotel to sleep then up at 6 to catch my return flight to London. The flight from Helsinki to Aland was neat as I got to check out the archipelago. Aland Island is autonomous from Finland. The most interesting thing I learned about Aland is that foreigners are not allowed to own property. You must live in Aland for 5 years before you earn the right to purchase property.
My boarding pass for the AirAland flight was the most interesting boarding pass I've ever seen. A simple laminated sheet. When I boarded the flight they didn't ask to check my ID or anything just took the boarding pass and on I went. Nothing like at Heathrow where your boarding pass is checked 4 or 5 times, even after you get on the plane.
The flights I've taken this week put me officially over the 25,000 mile mark and 9 cities and it's only February 20th. I'll hit 30K miles by the beginning of March after my trip to Egypt. If this keeps up 100K miles shouldn't be a problem.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Wide World of Sofas

There's been all sorts of sofa excitement in my life the past 2 weeks. I first got permission from the landlord and property management to get rid of the uncomfortable sofa in my flat and buy a new one. I was given an allowance of £350 to cover purchase, removal and delivery. The challenge I faced was 2 fold staying within budget and being able to find a sofa that would fit through the front door. I realized quickly that the combination of these 2 items wasn't possible if I wanted something comfortable, so I spent a little more money just so I could finally be able to sit comfortably on a sofa instead of spending most of my time on the floor. In a few short weeks the new sofa will hopefully be delivered. I'll post pictures when it arrives.

In other excitement my sister has been helping me with the removal of some furniture at my house in Natick as the new tenants don't need the furniture. The Salvation Army came yesterday but decided that since the arm of the sofa was slightly faded they wouldn't take it. I was slightly surprised by this news, in talking with others I guess this is common. They only accept furniture that is like-new. Hopefully in the next 24 hours we can find somebody who wants a free sofa if not need to arrange for the town to pick it up and dispose of it. I hate the idea of having to throw away a perfectly good sofa. I have no problems giving it away but asking for it to be sent to the dump is another matter.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

It started snowing yesterday afternoon and it still continues to come down a little bit. Although this may not be newsworthy for many in London the snow is causing loads of problems. This is the most snow that London has seen in 18 years! Having lived with lake effect snow and nor'easters for the majority of my life this is nothing. The problem is twofold:
  1. Cars, buses, etc aren't equipped with proper snow tires.
  2. Snowplows don't seem to exist.

As a result the roads are treacherous, the snow has gotten packed down and is a sheet of ice. I've noticed just walking around today how icy it is.

Last night I had the most terrifying taxi ride of my life. I had gone out to a Superbowl party in central London and had booked a taxi for my return. I got a call from the taxi company at around 1:30 AM asking if I really needed to be picked up or could I stay where I was. Since I was at a bar I thought it best to go home. The taxi driver wasn't used to driving in snow and the tires weren't great. Every time we started from a stop the tires spun. We hit a couple of patches where we could travel at a decent speed but then came a curve and the driver didn't think to slow down so we did a 360 in the middle of the street. When there were cars leading the way the driver thought it was fine to drive faster and didn't quite leave enough room to stop on the snow. There were a couple of times we had to swerve so as not to rear end the car in front of us. Luckily I made it home safely. I did have the sense to tell the driver to drop me at the end of the road as I knew the side streets were much worse than the main roads and I wasn't sure he would make it up the road without hitting something.

I was pretty sure that public transportation wouldn't be operating in the morning so I decided to sleep in a bit. When I turned on the radio the news reports were all about the weather and surprise surprise they announced that no buses were running, the tube was having closures on the majority of lines and the trains were severely delayed. Not to mention that most of their web sites were down due to the severe load of people trying to find out if transportation was running. By far the most amusing thing I heard were the warnings to pedestrians not to walk on the streets in the tire tracks as that could potentially slow down cars even more or result in more accidents.

When I got on-line this morning I started chatting with a co-worker from Canada and we were commenting how a little bit of snow (at least from our perspective) has crippled the city. They're saying as of now that trains are going to be running on a suspended service tomorrow as well so it looks like I'll be working from home again tomorrow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Week in SIN

Before you all start going crazy SIN is the actual airport code for Singapore. I know I've been back for a week and am only now just getting around to posting about the trip last week but I just couldn't find the motivation until now. I'm sure you've all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for this.

First off here is the video clip of me on Channel News Asia:

Being in Singapore the week before Chinese New Year aka Lunar New Year was a unique experience. I was given a gift of 2 mandarin oranges by a co-worker, mandarins are always handed out in pairs and they represent prosperity for the new year. At the end of the Chinese New Year celebration Singapore holds its annual Chingay parade. Walking back from my office to the hotel each day I could see the preparations under way. Chinatown is a transformed place during Chinese New Year - lanterns are hung everywhere, they close two of the side streets for markets, and the place is mobbed with people. I did manage to make it down to Chinatown on my last night to take pictures and experience the place.

I spent a lot of time checking out the various temples around town. Every temple was happy to welcome you inside to take a look around but no photography was allowed. All shoes had to be removed before entering, some temples provided lockers at others the shoes were just left out front. Outside the temples were bundles of incense and some had people selling flowers to be brought in as offerings. Other offerings I saw at some of the monuments inside the temple were juice boxes and other food items.

I was pleasantly surprised when I went into a temple in Chinatown to see that they had a sign indicating that photography was allowed if you bought a license for $3 so of course I did.

The final area that I explored was Arab Street. This section of town was much more subdued not as much hustle and bustle as Little India or Chinatown. Lots of fabric stores as well as carpet stores. I was very tempted to look in the carpet stores but was afraid I wouldn't be able to control myself and would end up buying something. The only thing I bought there was lunch, which was delicious. Mint tea, falafel and a meze plate - yummy!

Although I normally try to avoid tourist traps when I'm out travelling I did visit Long Bar at Raffle's Hotel which is where the Singapore Sling was invented. The place reminded me of the old Ground Round when you used to get shelled peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. I did notice that they had loads of drinks already prepared all they had to do was add ice and shake. I guess if you know that most people are going to order the same thing it's easier to prepare them ahead of time. The drink was OK nothing that special really and definitely not worth the price - this is why I typically avoid the tourist traps.
More pictures from the trip will be on my photography site shortly.