Archive for January, 2006

Update: Robbed blind in Bratislava

30/01/2006

After this morning’s woes things are going from bad to not so bad.
The bad –
The rental company told me it would take until tomorrow or Wednesday to deliver me a new set of keys for the car to Bratislava, but that they would be in Vienna this afternoon. Fair enough, so I agreed I would call them this afternoon to see if I would go to Vienna to collect the keys this evening as I had the chance of a lift over there. If not I’d call in the morning to see if they’d be able to get to me before I had to drive back to Vienna. If they’d ended up not being able to, I’d simply get a taxi to Vienna and have them pick the car up whenever they could.
The result of all this – the hotel calls me this afternoon and I discover that the car was picked up and taken back to Vienna during the afternoon whilst I was in a meeting. Bizarre. No problem though, I’ll simply get a taxi to Vienna tomorrow.
To top all of this off, my laptop’s network connection no longer works, meaning I have to sit in the lobby to do any work (and write wingeing blog entries) instead of being able to sit in my room.
The good –
The hotel could not have been more helpful. The manager apologised profusely, offered me my stay gratis, offered to arrange a taxi to Vienna for me and has also offered me and Mrs Saul a week’s free stay whenever we want. You can’t really ask for much more than an apology, some empathy and assistance to put things right, inasmuch as that can be achieved. I’m looking forward to eating lots of wild boar and venison this evening in their excellent restaurant. I’d prefer to have my stuff back, but there you go.
The manager also accompanied me to the police station and translated everything for me, so I now have some documents in Slovak detailing the dastardly deed to help me with any insurance either I or Sun might have. Since my room was unlocked, the hotel’s insurance won’t help.
The culprit was caught on video. The security cameras show a well dressed woman going up to the fifth floor and walking down the corridor trying all the doors. Mine was the only one that was unlocked (idiot Chris) and she can be seen going in. What amazes me is that she spent 6 or 7 minutes in my room, roughly 15 minutes after I’d turned the light out. I’m amazed I didn’t wake up. I’m also amazed she didn’t take the laptop. Quite frankly I’d have preferred it if she’d taken the laptop and left the other stuff.
It’s been interesting to compare how my two banks responded to my predicament. Citibank were excellent – accessing my account this morning (when my laptop was still working) was easy as my details were saved and I only needed a pin number. They were able to cancel both the ATM and Visa card and can get me new cards by Wednesday for a small fee.
My other bank, who shall remain nameless, were appalling. Their web access requires a barrage of numbers and pins that are impossible to remember, so I had to ring up and explain that I had no pins or numbers on me. It took several minutes to identify me and go through security, it will take them twice as long to replace my cards and I had to go through the whole palava twice – once for my ATM card and once for my Visa card, as well as being charged more in replacement fees. Still, at least they now courier cards to their customers. Not so long ago you had to visit the branch to get them, or alternatively scream down the phone long enough for someone to give in and agree to courier them instead.
I’m flying to the States on Monday, so fingers crossed I can get the laptop working, my cards reactivated, my eGate card replaced and start the process for replacing my various other cards – driving licence, health card, building access card, etc.

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Update: Robbed blind in Bratislava

30/01/2006

After this morning’s woes things are going from bad to not so bad.
The bad –
The rental company told me it would take until tomorrow or Wednesday to deliver me a new set of keys for the car to Bratislava, but that they would be in Vienna this afternoon. Fair enough, so I agreed I would call them this afternoon to see if I would go to Vienna to collect the keys this evening as I had the chance of a lift over there. If not I’d call in the morning to see if they’d be able to get to me before I had to drive back to Vienna. If they’d ended up not being able to, I’d simply get a taxi to Vienna and have them pick the car up whenever they could.
The result of all this – the hotel calls me this afternoon and I discover that the car was picked up and taken back to Vienna during the afternoon whilst I was in a meeting. Bizarre. No problem though, I’ll simply get a taxi to Vienna tomorrow.
To top all of this off, my laptop’s network connection no longer works, meaning I have to sit in the lobby to do any work (and write wingeing blog entries) instead of being able to sit in my room.
The good –
The hotel could not have been more helpful. The manager apologised profusely, offered me my stay gratis, offered to arrange a taxi to Vienna for me and has also offered me and Mrs Saul a week’s free stay whenever we want. You can’t really ask for much more than an apology, some empathy and assistance to put things right, inasmuch as that can be achieved. I’m looking forward to eating lots of wild boar and venison this evening in their excellent restaurant. I’d prefer to have my stuff back, but there you go.
The manager also accompanied me to the police station and translated everything for me, so I now have some documents in Slovak detailing the dastardly deed to help me with any insurance either I or Sun might have. Since my room was unlocked, the hotel’s insurance won’t help.
The culprit was caught on video. The security cameras show a well dressed woman going up to the fifth floor and walking down the corridor trying all the doors. Mine was the only one that was unlocked (idiot Chris) and she can be seen going in. What amazes me is that she spent 6 or 7 minutes in my room, roughly 15 minutes after I’d turned the light out. I’m amazed I didn’t wake up. I’m also amazed she didn’t take the laptop. Quite frankly I’d have preferred it if she’d taken the laptop and left the other stuff.
It’s been interesting to compare how my two banks responded to my predicament. Citibank were excellent – accessing my account this morning (when my laptop was still working) was easy as my details were saved and I only needed a pin number. They were able to cancel both the ATM and Visa card and can get me new cards by Wednesday for a small fee.
My other bank, who shall remain nameless, were appalling. Their web access requires a barrage of numbers and pins that are impossible to remember, so I had to ring up and explain that I had no pins or numbers on me. It took several minutes to identify me and go through security, it will take them twice as long to replace my cards and I had to go through the whole palava twice – once for my ATM card and once for my Visa card, as well as being charged more in replacement fees. Still, at least they now courier cards to their customers. Not so long ago you had to visit the branch to get them, or alternatively scream down the phone long enough for someone to give in and agree to courier them instead.
I’m flying to the States on Monday, so fingers crossed I can get the laptop working, my cards reactivated, my eGate card replaced and start the process for replacing my various other cards – driving licence, health card, building access card, etc.

Robbed blind in Bratislava

30/01/2006

Someone crept into my hotel room last night and stole my mobile phone from my bedside table, my digital camera from my suitcase, my trusty Palm Vx and my jeans with my wallet and rental car keys in them.
I woke up at 5am and turned to check my phone to see what time it was – it wasn’t there. Thinking it may have slipped under the bed I tried calling it, but it went straight to answerphone. Strange. When I got up I realised that my jeans had gone. Looking at my desk I saw that my laptop was still there but that my Palm Vx was missing. At first I thought I was going crazy, but as I woke up and saw my door hanging open it dawned on me that I must have been burgled.
I gave my details to the police and will meet someone at the hotel later to check the security camera tapes, for what it’s worth.
The rental car company can’t get me replacement keys until tomorrow – but I need to be back in Vienna for a flight at 1500. I could travel there and back in the morning, but I have no money. Even if I leave the car at the hotel and let the rental company collect it themselves on Wednesday I still have no money or credit cards to get me to Vienna to catch my flight.
The most annoying thing about this isn’t so much the loss of money and gadgets but losing the nice wallet that Tabu gave me for my birthday and losing all my official documents – building entry card, health card, driving licence, etc, that will be a real hassle to get replaced. I’ll even have to queue at passport control when I get back to Dubai as they pinched my eGate card along with the wallet.
I’m surprised this happened. The hotel has a good reputation and I was staying on the 5th floor. Time for them to upgrade to keycard entry only doors I think, instead of ones you have to lock manually…
Hmm. Am not too happy.

Mobile technology disrupts the pub quiz

29/01/2006

The quiz in Johnny’s last week had an interesting introduction – ‘Turn off your mobile phones!’. Interesting that being able to surreptitiously call, text or even surf the web to find out who the girl on the Playboy front cover was for question 1, or who opened the 1935 Olympics for question 2, can ruin such a venerable institution as The Pub Quiz.
The team next to me asked for some help and I guessed correctly for two of the Playboy front covers – Carrie Fischer and Anna Nicole Smith. I also got the name of Dido’s first album (No Angel) and managed to half answer two more questions, which meant that I ended up inadvertently being part of a winning quiz team for the first time in my life. What an achievement. Next time I’m in Vienna I may hire myself out to the highest bidding team.
In an interesting coda to the whole experience, mp3s and iTunes really livened up the whole affair, rescuing technology from being the quizmaster’s mortal enemy. Each question or answer usually had a song to go with it – the theme to Rocky for example, or a piece of classical music. In the old days only the most attentive and serious quizmaster would have gone to the effort of collecting all the right records, lining them up and playing the right track with aplomb to liven things up. Today all you need is a click of the mouse and The Eye of the Tiger matches the mood instantly.

Mobile technology disrupts the pub quiz

29/01/2006

The quiz in Johnny’s last week had an interesting introduction – ‘Turn off your mobile phones!’. Interesting that being able to surreptitiously call, text or even surf the web to find out who the girl on the Playboy front cover was for question 1, or who opened the 1935 Olympics for question 2, can ruin such a venerable institution as The Pub Quiz.
The team next to me asked for some help and I guessed correctly for two of the Playboy front covers – Carrie Fischer and Anna Nicole Smith. I also got the name of Dido’s first album (No Angel) and managed to half answer two more questions, which meant that I ended up inadvertently being part of a winning quiz team for the first time in my life. What an achievement. Next time I’m in Vienna I may hire myself out to the highest bidding team.
In an interesting coda to the whole experience, mp3s and iTunes really livened up the whole affair, rescuing technology from being the quizmaster’s mortal enemy. Each question or answer usually had a song to go with it – the theme to Rocky for example, or a piece of classical music. In the old days only the most attentive and serious quizmaster would have gone to the effort of collecting all the right records, lining them up and playing the right track with aplomb to liven things up. Today all you need is a click of the mouse and The Eye of the Tiger matches the mood instantly.

Pop lookalikes pop up in Vienna

29/01/2006

Last week in Vienna I went for a walk to stretch my legs, nearly froze to death and ducked into Johnny’s Pub around the corner from Das Triest to warm up.
Johnny’s markets itself as a ‘British and Irish pub’ and has created what is, in my opinion, a perfect mix between British and European/German bars. No stupid fake bookshelves, bicycles hanging on the wall and hoddly hoo Oirish music, just a decent bar where you can sit if you like, stand if you like, sit at the bar if you like, enjoy whatever you want to drink and not get kicked out at 11 in the evening.
It seems to be staffed by Brits at the moment, all of whom have excellent taste in music. I went there the following night as well and thoroughly enjoyed my fish and chips whilst practising my German on the locals.
On the first night I thought for a moment that I’d stumbled on England’s most drug addled rocker sharing a pint of Budvar with Denmark’s biggest Jesus and Mary Chain fan. Turns out it wasn’t Pete Doherty of Babyshambles and Sund from the Raveonettes, just their Viennese lookalikes.

Driving in circles in Bratislava

29/01/2006

Flew into Vienna today, hired my rather dull Opel hire car and hot footed it through some beautiful snow covered fields to Bratislava in under an hour, followed by an hour driving in circles trying to find my hotel. Thank goodness it’s Sunday and the roads were virtually empty.
Top tip. When your guests ask you for directions, send them something detailed. Signs near the hotel help as well! Anyway, I’ve made it to the Hotel Dukla, where I’m pleased to find free internet and a free minibar as well. A free minibar is pretty unusual – reception told me it only had soft drinks, which would make sense, except it appears to have beer in there as well. I remember being in Moscow years ago and being surprised to see beer listed on the soft drinks menu – looks like it may have the same status here.

Back to Dubai, then back to Vienna, then back to Dubai

26/01/2006

Back to Dubai today, although I’ll by flying to Vienna again on Sunday and driving to Bratislava for some partner training on the Monday. I’ll be driving back on Tuesday, so will have time for some internal meetings on Tuesday morning. If it’s a little warmer that means I may be able to venture out on Monday evening and have a stroll around the town centre.
Vienna airport’s fairly nice, but I don’t like the way you have to go through the xray machine at the gate, rather than earlier on at passport control – the result is that you always end up standing in a queue regardless of whether you’re early or late.
It’ll be tiring flying back and forth, but I’m looking forward to two days of warm weather and being with Mrs Saul. Although this wasn’t a spectacularly busy few days for me, I feel knackered. Probably something to do with the cold. At the moment I have that tired and bloated feeling from not doing enough exercise and from spending too much time sitting in cabs and airports eating the wrong kind of food. Yuck.

Business (under)pants

24/01/2006

A new Dubai business is set to change the world that exists between my trousers and buttocks – businesspants.com.
I particularly like this line from their homepage –
“businesspants.com has been conceived especially for businessmen who aspire to being comfortable whilst traveling and during meetings and conferences and who know intuitively exactly what they want.”
My underpant requirements changed drastically when I left my studies and became a businessman. As a student I liked my pants to be wild, whacky and free. Sitting in lectures with uncomfortable underpants didn’t matter, as long as everyone could see them sticking out above my belt. As a businessman I intuitively know that noone should see my pants ever during a meeting, even if they ask. And believe me, they do ask. Frequently.
“Decide now on a businesspants.com subscription today and never worry about having to walk around the shops to find those perfect underpants, socks and vests again. Our quality will always be consistently high, so you never have to think again about underwear. Thus, today’s shopping problems can be solved with lasting effect.”
Only the other day I was wandering around the streets of Athens, begging business underpant shop owners to sell me some intuitive business underpants, as I’d left my usual business pants at home. Nothing they had met my exacting standards. If only I’d know about businesspants.com then.

eTrex replaced

23/01/2006

I managed to replace the GPS I crunched without having to fork out too much cash.
AMIT Trading are the local dealer. Their shop is quite near the gold souk and dhow wharf in Deira, Dubai’s older business area. I’m not very fond of driving around Deira as there’s not much in the way of parking and you have to do battle with lumbering Mitsubishi trucks overladen with everything from tomato puree to washing machines, but the area does have its own unique character.
After finding a parking space in a street that seemed to consist entirely of rice wholesalers, all of whom appeared to sell exactly the same product with little differentiation between one shop and the next, I made my way down to Amit’s past Pakistani labourers pulling handcarts full of all sorts of goods from shop to shop.
Amit’s is one of those ‘we sell everything, at best price’ kind of places, with an emphasis on marine supplies. Inside was mild chaos, with lots of shouting and various languages being spoken, along with people who seemed to be neither customers nor employees, simply whiling the day away sipping tea next to the Honda diesel generators.
I managed to resist the temptation to buy a six cylinder marine diesel engine from Guang Dong China Company and settled for a very reasonably priced replacement for my crushed eTrex, along with a proper car mount to avoid squashing it again and a power supply that plugs into the Jeep’s cigarette lighter.
The whole experience as a customer was quite bizarre – lots of mumbling, invoices to sign and people disappearing upstairs, leaving me unsure as to whether they were off to find an answer to my question or simply didn’t want to serve me any more.
That said, the price was excellent and they have all the Garmin and Navman kit you could dream of. Highly recommended, particularly if the urge to buy a Chinese boat engine suddenly takes you whilst you’re other half is shopping for gold around the corner.