Thursday, 20 March 2014

Such Great Heights

What is this, a blog that isn't related to house buying? I'm actually posting something about my regular life these days? Well yes, because I've actually got something I can be bothered writing a blog post about...

So I was relaxing in my room a few days ago, most likely watching Parks & Recreation (it's an amazing comedy series, everyone should watch it) when I got a message on Facebook from my friend and ex-housemate Peter, asking if I was doing much over Easter and might be interested in going cycling for a few days. The initial idea was that we'd take a ferry over to Brittany, do a couple of days along the French coast, and then get another ferry back to the UK. And then somehow from that idea we decided that if we were going to make the effort to go abroad we could fly somewhere and end up in a location where the late-April weather was likely to be a little bit more reliable.

After some brainstorming for places, I suggested Mallorca. It's a place I've been multiple times on holidays as a teenager and I'm pretty familiar with the island, and the weather should be absolutely ideal. It's also Bradley Wiggins' favourite holiday destination and I can't really argue with a TdF and Olympic TT winner. I worked out a rough route around the coast it came to around 300km - pretty much perfect distance for a long weekend somewhere. Sorted. It's been several months since I last did anything proper on a bike (I will very much openly admit I'm a fair-weather cyclist), but a month is enough time to train up. I'll be fine.

Then I actually put the route I'd knocked up into something that gave me an elevation profile (click to enlarge).

Holy fucking shit those mountains. In particular that Cat 1 821m ascent (for reference, the biggest climbs in the UK as far as I can find seem to top out around 650m ascent - and they're all found a long way from Cambridgeshire where the highest point is around 130m).

Like I said, having been there before I was aware that there were some pretty decently sized mountains on the island. I'd just forgotten how pretty much the entire northern coast was hilly as hell. Like, seriously hilly...


Heck, some of these mountain roads are so picturesque and epic that they get their own postcards...

The infamous Sa Calobra climb. Will probably not be attempting...

So we tweaked the plan a little bit, and rather than a tour we'll use Palma as a base and just branch out - it lacks the poetic nature and sense of accomplishment of having done a tour, but in reality it's far more sensible. It means that we can actually bring changes of clothes and netbooks and such without having to carry it all whilst riding. And it means if we accidentally explode our legs one day there's no pressure on us to actually go anywhere the next day because we don't have an airport to get back to, so we can actually be a little more adventurous without fear of it all going horribly wrong. I'll still definitely give a lot of respect to any of the climbs that have more than 500m ascent, given that my current record for ascent in a single ride stands at 600m total over a 90km ride, let alone in one single stretch of climb.

The next thing to sort was flights and hotels, which was a huge faff. In particular trying to phone up hotels to ask them if they either had secure bike storage or would allow us to keep bikes in our rooms. After looking up about 20 hotels and judging by location and amenities and tripadvisor, we finally settled on the brilliantly named Hotel Colon.

The other thing I kind of didn't anticipate was bike hire, because originally I just assumed we'd take our own bikes and hiring would be expensive. I assumed wrong. Once I actually looked things up it turned out that hiring bikes there is disgustingly cheap. You can rent a full carbon road bike for under €20 a day. Not only can I hire a bike for cheaper than it'd cost me to take it on the plane, but I can hire a bike that's better than the one I actually own (and probably in better condition; mine needs cleaning and a new chainset). Unless you were going for like two weeks or had a serious attachment to your own bike I have no idea why anyone would bring their own.

So everything is now booked and I have about a month to get from a state where the last proper cycling I did was a sickening eight months ago, to a state where I can drag myself up 500m of hill and still be conscious enough at the top to enjoy the view. Which means I'm going to have to seriously put some miles in, and probably make a desperate attempt to try and get some hill training done in a notoriously flat region of the country (basically just chucking myself up and down a 60m climb and hoping it makes a difference).

It'd be nice to go and actually get some cycling done that's a bit different and not just the kind I'd be able to do in Cambridgeshire only with slightly better weather for April. At the same time, though, some of the hills are mental. Take the climb to Puig Major from Soller, for example. For one, look at the sodding leaderboard on there - there's like half of Team Sky and a bunch of other pro cyclists at the top. And they still took 35 minutes of pain to get to the top. That climb is basically the same distance as my commute to work, except that it's a 6% average gradient the whole way. And when I get to work I'd still have another 2km left to go...

The one climb I'm hoping to be fit enough to do is the Coll de Soller, which is pretty big but at 500m not totally insane in comparison to some of the other hills. And I remember going over it multiple times as a teenager in a hire car with my Dad - there's a tunnel that cuts out the mountain and is much quicker, but also far less interesting. It's pretty much back to back hairpins the whole way up and is a ridiculous road...

After looking at this picture I'm still not sure how I can consider this to be one of the "easier" climbs on the island...
It'll depend on how much I can get done before we leave, and how I feel once we're there, but that's the personal goal and it's not too far from Palma so it's a relatively safe thing to attempt if I'm completely out of steam once I get to the top. If I can get up and down that thing in one piece I'll be incredibly happy. And if I can't, eh, I'll still have probably enjoyed the trip.

Unless something goes wrong or the whole weekend is a complete wash-out with thunderstorms or something, it's going to be awesome.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Buying A Flat, Part II (The Waiting Game)

After much stalling, the long-awaited part deux of my blog for buying a flat! I say long-awaited not because I was frequently pestered by people to write this, but because I was long-awaiting a point in time where I'd actually have something substantial to write and proper progress since the first post.

Shit has taken forever. It's been ages since my last post (Railton has made like four whole blog posts in that time), and I still don't own a flat. I actually had to go back and re-read my previous post to refresh what I'd actually said so I didn't miss or repeat anything. And I realised that my previous post was written on 5th Dec - over three months ago!

Probably my least favourite part has been the fact that I have been, and continue to be, asked on a regular basis how things have been going. Not because any individuals ask me really often, just because out of the fifty or so people I work with, various friends and family and such, there are a lot of people who are aware that I'm buying a flat and maybe ask me once a month or so how it's going (usually in the way of "So have you moved in yet?" or "When's your completion date?"), which kind of just brings a terse grimace and explanation that it has not been going, I haven't moved in, and I don't even have any idea when I will besides "not in the next week or two". Or in the occasional case a rant about solicitors taking ages and a far more obvious demonstration that they've touched a nerve by asking (sorry Helen...). I get people are just curious or making polite conversation and it's an obvious question to ask, but damn it heaps on the frustration that things are taking forever (and there's basically nothing I can do about it) to also be asked about it on basically a daily basis.

Anyway, I've figured out that basically what has happened is that lawyers have created a system where you have to get lawyers. Then they charge you a lot of money because you have to get lawyers. Then they just spend all their time rolling around the office in large piles of cash and bathing in their solid fucking gold jacuzzi rather than doing any actual work you're paying them for.

Once I had a place reserved and mortgage confirmed in principle, I figured I was kind of most of the way there. Nope. Not even close. The following gif approximately demonstrates what I thought it would be like compared to how it actually has gone:

Or maybe another gif to demonstrate how utterly cack-handed the selling solicitors have been handling the whole thing:

I did my bit. My solicitors faffed for a few weeks and then seemingly did their bit. And then the selling solicitors seemingly took the best part of two months to actually fucking send over the contract and the lease and all the other paperwork for myself and my solicitors to review. And then that paperwork was wrong so I've had to spend more time faffing around and phoning people to get stuff amended and get the correct copies and now, today, literally like 4 months after I put an offer in for the property, I've finally sent a signed copy of the correct lease to my solicitors for them to hold until exchange.

Also, the contract and lease are long as hell. Sixty-four pages long. And it's all in complicated legalbabble, so takes genuine effort to decipher what any of it means. It contains many eye-glazing clauses such as this one:


But for the most part it's fairly sane. Well, for the most part...

I really want a bird dog reptile...

But in general, I can't keep pets without permission from the building owner (above), I can't sublet until I've purchased the rest of the shares in the property, I can't knock walls down or change the exterior appearance - all fairly standard stuff that I expected. I also have to give my landlord first refusal before I can put the flat up for sale on the open market (which is what Clause 3.19.2 details above), but again I'm not particularly fussed over that.

I will say, in the interest of keeping this informative to people who might get places of their own, that solicitors seriously are expensive. The total cost of mine including the conveyancing searches are like £1100, and they were basically the cheapest I could find (shared ownership bumps the cost up though). And from personal experience and anecdotal evidence from literally everyone I've spoken to about it, you have to harass them over the phone. I swear to god that they basically do nothing whatsoever until you phone them and ask them to do it and then maybe they'll stop throwing banknotes over their head and do some work for a bit. How fast my own solicitors have moved on stuff seems to be directly proportional to how many times a week I've rung them up.

So, as current status I'll hopefully get my mortgage offer in the next week or so, and get most of the land searches and stuff back from my solicitors this week as well, which means actually I'm hopefully (hopefully) only two or three weeks away from stuff being finalised and maybe actually moving in!

There are some up-sides to the whole thing having taken so bloody long, thankfully. Namely that in the three-and-a-bit months since I got my original mortgage quote, Woolwich/Barclays have lowered their rates a bit, and I've also got a few more thousand saved up for the deposit, so I'm actually now paying a good chunk less in interest rates on my mortgage than I would have been if everything had gone super-smoothly.Silver lining at least...

We shall see. But hopefully not much longer until Part III :D

(Also inb4 people like Krit and Aki are ironically all "SO HOW IS THE FLAT BUYING GOING WHEN YOU GONNA MOVE IN?" to piss me off)