Hotel Embarrassment

“Hello, this is Ian Thompson in room 714.”

“Good afternoon Mr Thompson, how may I help you?”

“My TV does not seem to be operating.”

“I will send the technician to your room immediately.”

“Thanks.”

There’s a knock at the door.

“Mr Thompson, you have a problem with the TV?”

“Yes, it does not seem to want to operate.”

Click! The technician switches the room master switch on. The TV sparks into life as does the lighting in the room.

Sigh – how many years have I been travelling and living in hotel rooms?

King of the Castle

I’ve been living in this hotel now for 17 months – nearly one and a half years. It is a long time in any language. I must admit now to feeling a little like the Major from Fawlty Towers – part of the hotel’s schedule being set around my patterns. Always a newspaper where I can find it, none of the staff looking for tips anymore (I am, after all, Australian, and we are famous for not tipping), chef comes from the kitchen in the evening and acts as my waiter as well as cooks anything I want. Even the maître d’hôtel moved people from a table last night so that I could sit down.

King of the Castle indeed!

Jeddah Hilton Hotel

Inside the Jeddah Hilton
Inside the Jeddah Hilton (yes, INSIDE)
The view from downstairs at the Hilton
The view from downstairs at the Hilton - across to the Red Sea

Today I had to travel to the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah for a function. Apart from the fact that it was physical Thursday/logical Saturday, the function started at 8:00 in the morning and meant having to get up at 6:00 to get there in time … on the day off no less 😦

However, the the Hotel as some wonderful features, such as the being next to the Red Sea (see the photo to the right) and more impressively, the lobby area of the hotel (see the photo to the left). The lobby area in particular really is wonderful and needs to be seen to be believed, with the internal streams, fountains and waterfalls plus a really high atrium.

The one thing that those of us with more fulsome figures was really looking forward to, however, was the food. We had heard many good things about the food at the Hilton and looked forward to a change from the food here at the Radisson. Living on the traffic island means that we eat in far more than we should and as a result, we have eaten our way through the menu here about 30 times now.

What can I say? The food at the Hilton was really very disappointing. The catering from the Radisson is far superior. Even the Om Ali, my favourite Middle Eastern dessert, was not so good – way too many nuts in it. I guess it is back to La Sani North Indian Restaurant again  tonight for a touch of reality.

Living On The Traffic Island

In Jeddah we are staying at the moment at the SAS Radisson on Madinah Road. To add to confusion, there are two SAS Radisson’s on Madinah Road. One is an all-suite luxury hotel. We are staying at the other one.

The hotel staff are great, really looking after us. The only real problem that we have is that the hotel is on the traffic island. The front of the hotel is on Madinah Road westbound and the rear of the hotel is on the Madinah Road eastbound. The result is that at night, when we want to slip across to Le Sani North Indian restaurant for a Vege Jalfreezi, Murgh Makhani and Roti, we have to cross three lanes of traffic moving westward at between 80 and 120 kilometres an hour.

This is all a matter of timing. Unfortunately, our timing is such that when we do this it is usually just after spending an hour in the gym and where our legs are now moving kind of slow.

It’s a little worse after eating. By now our legs have cooled and stiffened at little and the traffic has got a little lighter, permitting it to travel at between 90 and 120 kmh. Such is life living on the traffic island.

Ulaanbaatar Then and Now – Part 2

Scott Notes in 2000: When I 1st arrived at UB I checked into the UB Hotel, supposedly the “best” hotel in UB. From all accounts in talking with different people, both local & expatriates, it is the best! However it would be lucky to get a 2 star rating. I had a double room which consisted of a bathroom & a bedroom (tariff AUD 140).  After checking in I went to my room to unpack & then have a shower before meeting the client for dinner. Having finished my unpacking, which was easy as there wasn’t much cupboard or drawer space to unpack to, and hardly any hangers in the wardrobe, I went to have a shave & shower. Turning on the water taps I was horrified to see dark murky water coming through. Standing there in a daze wondering what the hell had I let myself into the water eventually cleared however no hot water, not even after 5 minutes. I subsequently learnt that you have to let the water run for almost 10 to 15 minutes before any hot water will start to come through. The bath & shower taps are as per Europe where you have to pull a plug up to allow the water to come through the shower head. When I first pulled it up it came off, so after fixing it, it came up but then slipped halfway down again so that you only had a small amount of water coming through the shower head.  The cable TV only had 7 channels,  3 of which were in English, CNN, BBC & ESPStar sports.  Apparently there is a 4th English channel that shows movies etc but it wasn’t tuned in on the Hotel set. The rooms do not have any air conditioning, and as a consequence my room was very stuffy & hot, and remained that way, as I couldn’t open the double glazed windows.

Thomo Notes in 2005: I have to mention that I also stayed in a hotel, at the time, reportedly the best in Ulaanbaatar (and not the UB Hotel). It also suffered from water pressure, especially when switching between bath and shower. The cable TV was much better now with many channels. There are, I think, two basic cable supply companies in Mongolia, Sansar and Supervision. Between them they carry the usual suspects, CNN, BBC World, Star TV, Star Movies, ESPN, Star Sports, MTV, ABC Asia Pacific, lots of Russian, NHK, Arirang etc etc. They are split between the two companies and there are probably 20 or so channels on each network, with a few of them common to both networks. I am now in an apartment and access to these channels is cheap, in the order of $4.00 per month.

Airconditioning is still a rarity here as in summer, whilst the temperature may reach 30 or so, the humidity is really low. Opening the window tends to work and at nighttime the temperature falls to a pleasant level. Eating outside in the sunshine is almost mandatory over the short summer and any restaurant that wants to maintain clientele in the summer must have an outside eating area.

Scott Notes in 2000: The hotel didn’t have a regular hotel bar. There was a small one but I never saw it open for business. It did have a nightclub bar which opened at 9pm, however when I checked it out late one night for a nightcap it was totally empty. The hotel restaurant, in fact all of the “western” styled restaurants I have been to so far, lack any menu variety, the food is low quality and often lacks taste. In a lot of cases the stench of cooked mutton hangs in the air. I now know & appreciate how Rose feels with regards to the smell of lamb. Went to the up-market El Torado Steakhouse the other night and ordered the fillet steak (AUD 18). The waiter didn’t ask anyone how they might want their steaks cooked.  It was served cooked well & truly through, with a large serving of mayonnaise on top, the steak was stringy & tough, tasted like horse meat and had obviously been well marinated, the taste of which was not particularly appealing. I ended up only eating half of it. The side vegetables were minimal and almost inedible. Fortunately the beer was cold. The local brewery makes quite a good draught beer called Chingis. A ½ liter will cost approx. AUD 3.50.

Thomo Notes in 2005: Well, beer is certainly cheaper now, a 1/2 litre of Chinggish costing about AUD $2.50 from most places. And there is certainly no shortage of places to eat and drink with many pubs, restaurants and clubs all over town. There are some that have been here for a long time such as Millies, the UB Deli and such, whilst others have only been open for a year or two – Dave’s Place, Budweiser Pub and so on. As for the steak being tough and tasting like horsemeat, well, horsemeat has a different flavour. I’ve not tried the El Torado but in one respect, some things do not change. I have never been asked how I wanted my steak cooked – it is just ordered and delivered.

Ulaanbaatar has become a much more interesting place to eat over the years. There are now many Chinese restaurants, Korean restaurants, a couple of French, German, English/Irish style as well as Russian, Ukrainian and Thai. There are traditional Mongolian restaurants as well as modern fusion Mongolian (the three Nomad’s restaurants in particular). Whilst Khuurshuur and Buuz can become a little boring when travelling through the countryside, in Ulaanbaatar in particular, there is so much eating variety now that it is difficult to get bored with food here.

Korea Changes

I’ve been travelling to Korea for many years now. I’ve stayed at hotels in a number of places in the country and I have travelled through the airport many times. Now I am peeved. I arrived at the hotel at 12:50 to be greeted by a smiling imbecile behind the counter who with a broad smile happily announced that check-in was from 2:00. Just what you need to hear after a few hours travelling. Guys, apologise to the guest and say “I am sorry sir, the rooms are still being made up – they will be ready at 14:00”, not “Check-in is at 2!”

Then there was the nice lady who telephoned me today at 11:30 to say “you know checkout time is 12:00?”

Guys – as you rush to be a dominant power in Asia and to improve your globalisation position, remember, English has a whole pile of niceties built into it to stop crotchety old men like me getting grumpy. Use them!

And the final peeve? Incheon airport. Nice and efficient with the security check (my laptop bag gets sniffed each time I pass through there). Trouble is, every time I pass through there, I have to take my shoes off so that they can be x-rayed!

What is wrong with that I hear you ask? Well, the first thing is that the shoe x-ray is sort of random. The second is that that sterilised sandals that are provided are all Asian sized. So, either I walk in socks in a country that has almost religious zealousness about only shoes touching the ground or I walk in small sandals, look like an idiot and run the risk of falling over because my feet will not fit the damn things.

Guys – there are many big footed persons in the world – try and cater for us too.