Famille Du Pentium

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Trip Report – Delhi

I thought I’d give you a run-down of my stopover in Delhi, India on my way home.  It’s interesting because it shows how much time it takes to transfer at Delhi.  My advice: Don’t cut your transfer time short in Delhi. 

AA Flight to Chicago: 12:15 AM Sunday.  This is my target.  I start at about 5:00 PM Saturday, in Hyderabad, which is about 2 hours from Delhi.  My US flight boards at 11:30 PM.

5:00 PM-ish: Flight to Delhi.  Arrives late due to weather, approximately 8:00 PM

Delhi: Get my luggage, and check in at the "International Terminal Transfer Desk", they advise that the hourly bus transfer to Delhi International will leave at 8:50 PM, be there then.  I wait a few minutes.

Getting on the bus, I ask someone who has done this before how it works.  He assures me that it’s about a five minute ride.  

Forty-five minutes later, we arrive at the International airport.  I’d say terminal, but when you have to drive 45 minutes to get there from the domestic arrival, it’s pretty much another airport.

So it’s about 9:30.  I wait in line to get IN to the Delhi international airport.  Then I wait in line to have my luggage screened and strapped and tagged.  Then I go to the check-in desk and wait in line to talk to the airline Security person.  Then I wait in line to get to the Business Class check-in desk.  All this takes about 15-20 minutes, except the check-in itself, which takes seconds, because they’ve already printed my boarding pass and have it waiting on the desk.  You get the feeling that they definately have a handle on who is flying today.

Next, Indian immigration.  This is a grating experience.  Not the people, they’re fine.  And the interminable lines wouldn’t be so bad if they moved uniformly.  The problem is, the Indian immigration folks are very thorogh (good for them!) but they don’t have a very good system for dealing with problems that arise.  So when problems arise, as they do often when immigration officials are being thorough, the line you are in STOPS.  So you move.  Then that line stops.  You move again.  So I arrived at immigration about 9:50 PM, and I’m through by about 10:30.

OK, I have my exec lounge card, and I thought that the check-in desk lady said "past security, turn left".
 I see the security checkpoint just ahead, so I make my way into line.  I can’t complain about the security; the lines are long and slow but it IS security, and this is India after all, so for better or for worse I tough it out.  I’m through by 11:00 PM.

Wow, did I just show how it took three hours to get from a flight arriving in Delhi to a flight departing Delhi?

So I get through security, I figure I’m home free.  Except, this is a small waiting area for about 10 international departure gates.  I must have misunderstood the check-in lady because there is definately not any exec lounges here, just seats and a coffee kiosk.  As a matter of fact, there isn’t even an exit back to the insecure area.  Once you’re cleared, you stay cleared.  Better hope your flight leaves, ’cause that’s the only way you’re getting out of this room.

So I waited the remaining 30 minutes (!!!) and then got called for boarding.  Going through the jetway, we had one more metal detector and a complete hand-check of my carry on bag.  Again, I’m not going to complain about security, not when I fly 60,000 miles a year.  Good for it.  The plane pushed promptly at 12:15 PM and I was ready – for my 16 hour flight back to home Sweet Home, Chicago. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 9:06 pm  

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Trip Report – India

The biggest problem with this trip report is that I really did not have much time in India.  It was a hasty visit to nail down some action items and then move on.  So I didn’t get much time to see very much of Hyderabad, much less India.  But what I did see, I’ll report here.

Coming in to Hyderabad airport tired, we lined up for immigration control.  Since India requires visas for all visitors, I expected a long line.  Considering it was midnight, immigration officers were doing a very detailed job of looking at everyone’s passport and visa.  The only problem I ran into was, the immigration agent at the desk I approached took my landing card, stamped my passport, and told me to move on.  Later, after collecting my luggage, the exit from the sterile area was guarded, and an entry slip was required to pass.  I was supposed to have gotten this from the first immigration agent, however, he didn’t hand out slips to anyone.  So there were some awkward moments as the second immigration officers tried to figure out what to do about this.  Eventually they let me pass.

I was met by a driver for the Taj Krishna hotel where I was staying this week.  We were escorted out to our car, luggage was loaded up, and off we went.

I’ve been trying to think about a politically correct way to frame my comments about driving around Hyderabad.  There is a lot of poverty.  You see it as you make your way around town to stay in a posh hotel.  There’s no missing it.  Even though Hyderabad is building itself as a hi tech city, their legacy is poverty and they are still trying to deal with it.  You can’t miss the huts, tents, and shanties as you drive around.

There is a positive side, too.  Education is very important in India, and Hyderabad is no exception.  As you are driving around, when you’re near the public schools, you see the children in their school uniforms making their way to school.  Further out, in the shanty towns and poverty-stricken areas, you see the children emerging from their shanties in clean, pressed school uniforms, getting ready to make their way to school.  In America, kids in these conditions would probably not qualify for public school because they simply don’t have an address.  Yet in India, everyone gets a free education, regardless of where or how they live.  It’s no wonder that India is becoming a technical hub of the world.

The only other problem that Hyderabad (and most big cities in India) have is traffic.  The US State Department warns about this, and it’s not an exaggeration.  Roads in India are poorly maintained, there are few traffic controls and even fewer traffic police, and everyone is an aggressive driver.  My next blog entry will include a YouTube video of a typical Big-City intersection in India.

Fortunately, my driver, Javed, was skilled and safe and got me through all of this.  But I would strongly recommend to anyone making a trip to a big city in India:

  • Get a private driver who is reputable, safe, and responsible to you or your company for your safety
  • Never ever take the 3-wheeled "mini taxies"
  • Don’t try driving yourself

Aside from that, India was a beautiful country and Hyderabad was a great city to visit.  Pictures are in the gallery.  I’m sure I’ll think of more to post here later. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 11:48 am  

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hotel Review – Hotel Intercontinental Zurich

Ah, where to begin.  Well, it was a disaster from the start.

I travelled on business to Zurich from September 4 through 11.  My company has a corporate rate with the Intercontinental, and it’s only two tram stops from the office, so it’s usually OK.  We know the rooms are small, but the proximity makes it a good choice.


I arrived at Zurich International Airport at about 10:00 PM Monday night.  Usually I take a cab strait to the office, but since I did not have to be at work until Tuesday morning I figured I’d take the hotel shuttle.  I waited at the clearly marked and appointed location, where a schedule was clearly posted that the Hotel Intercontinental ran shuttles every 30 minutes at 05 and 35.  Since I emerged from the baggage claim and immigration at about 10 PM, I figured I’d have plenty of time, since (again, according to the clearly posted schedule) the shuttles run until 23:35.

After wasting an hour waiting for the shuttle that did not arrive, I called the hotel.  "Oh," they said, "The shuttle is no longer running.  Just take a cab."  Well, a cab will cost me about CHF60, and the shuttle would have been CHF22.  The hotel assures me that they’ll take care of it.  Meanwhile, having waited around for an hour for a ride, a gypsy cabbie had already started stalking me out, hoping for a fare.  I had to give him the slip first (thanks, Hotel Intercontinental) and then find a real taxi to take to the HI.

I finally arrived at the hotel at midnight.  The hotel is 20 minutes from the airport.  

I entered the lobby and was immediately bombarded with the noise from some sort of renovation work being done on the floors.  It was very loud, and almost impossible to hear the hotel staff, who apparently were unaware of the major decibels being emitted from this floor destruction equipment, because they refused to speak any louder to make themselves heard.  At one point, I had leaned so far forward over the desk to hear the front desk staff, I thought about climbing up on the desk.

I asked for a smoking room, I got a non-smoking room.  "No problem," the front desk guy said, he handed me an ashtray.

I booked my corporate rate, and didn’t get it.  It took phone calls from an executive’s assistant to get the rate.  

My priority club membership level gives me free local phone calls, which they charged me for.

I tried to complain about these issues; they always told me the manager was "away", and that they would review them upon his return.  I never heard from them again, nor did I get a credit for the local phone calls.

About half way through my stay, the phone stopped working altogether.  It turns out, they thought I had checked out, so they turned it off.

The Hotel Intercontinental is used heavily by my company.  It’s small, it’s cheap, it’s convenient.  But the mishaps and unresolved issues will cause me to rethink staying there again.  We also have a corporate rate at the Marriott. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:15 pm  

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Switzerland – India Photos

Switzerland (Mostly Countryside): http://gallery.famille.org/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=778&g2_navId=xbede8b7e

Hyderabad, India: http://gallery.famille.org/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=779&g2_navId=xbede8b7e

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 6:46 pm  

Friday, September 22, 2006

Trip Report – Zurich

This time I decided that I would go out to the Swiss countryside and see a little more of the world than just Zurich.  My trip report follows.

Separately, I have quite a review coming up tomorrow for the Hotel Intercontinental Zurich.   It was quite a stay, I must say.

So this time through Zurich, I took the "Heidiland Great Country Tour", offered by Gray Line Tours.  It cost about CHF75 (about US$60) and was well worth it.  A large, comfortable motor coach awaited us for our tour.  Initially, it didn’t seem like the driver realized how hot it was in the bus – it was about 80 (F) outside, and the top front of the bus (the prime viewing seats) were a lot warmer than that.  At first, the driver turned on the A/C until it got slightly lower than sweltering, and then promptly turned it off.  I’m all for conservation and realize that European culture is more efficient with it’s use of natural resources, however hot is hot and it was plain hot.  All the same, after mentioning the temperature problem to the driver at the first stop, he took care of it.

First we covered Zurich, which was pretty standard fare… the Universty district, the Lake Zurich waterfront, and various other local sites I’d seen already.  Not bad, but old news.  Then we hit the road toward Rapperswill.  Some of our fellow tourists were actually on the "Cityrama Tour", which includes a cruise on Lake Zurich from Rapperswill back to Zurich.  Otherwise, Rapperswill was a nice little town with a castle on a hill.  We climbed the hill on foot, and then made our way back down through the little shops.  Rapperswill is known as the City of Roses because of several large rose gardens located around town, however I never made it to those, the castle was enough for me.  Time to go to the bus and have a seat.

On the road again, we made our way  toward Vaduz, in Fürstentum Liechtenstein, which is actually a small country (or principality) adjacent to Switzerland.  It is a very very small country to be sure, with a smaller population than the village I live in (Skokie, Illinois).  It is also a Constitutional Monarchy, which means it has a royal family but it’s political leaders are democratically elected.  It’s official currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF) but unlike Switzerland, FL is a member of the EU so they also accept Euros.  Oh, and American Dollars, too, of course.  🙂  But I dipped into my plastic to buy gicts here.  It’s really quite a nice city, and in the center of town is a bunch of shops and restaraunts and hotels on a very small pedestrianized street that probably makes it a very cozy place to hang out in the evening after the day tourists leave.

More information about the Principality of Liechtenstein can be found HERE.   

Onward and Eastbound, we made our way toward   MAIENFELD, also known as Heidiland, the scenic area where the story Heidi was based.  I loved the scenery and fresh air, but the Heidi House wasn’t much (nor did it cost much).  It’s certainly not a whole day, just something to do for a few hours.  Which makes me wonder why there is a hotel adjacent to the house… I can’t imagine anyone spending more than a couple hours here.  Unless they like goats.

Finally we started making our way back toward Zurich, which took quite a while because of Sunday afternoon traffic on the main motorways.  We were scheduled to return to Zurich at about 6:00 PM, but actually got back around 7:30 PM, which was actually OK because we were all in a very comfortable coach viewing the Swiss countryside on our way back. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 5:27 pm  

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Trip Report: LHR

Let’s talk about London.  One day after I booked my trip to London, Zurich, and Hyderabad, British authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to blow up airplanes bound for the U.S. from Britain.  Strict security measures were put into place after these announcements, some of which have since been repealled.   But not all.

Undeterred, I went boldly into the United Kingdom with my 12 hour layover in London fully planned to the minute.  Things went smoothly inbound; and my plans to try the Heathrow Express were only marginally upset by some track construction that delayed my train’s arrival at Paddington.  

Upon my return to Heathrow that evening, however, I learned about how good the British are at queuing.  I arrived at Terminal 4 (BA) on HE, came upstairs, and things looked pretty normal.  On my way to the check-in counter, something a bit odd happened; police blocked off the corridor across the terminal to allow what seemed like hundreds of passengers across the corridor to the security checkpoint line.  I didn’t think about it much yet.

I checked in at the Business Class desk, and was given a priority ticket to allow me to use the "invitation only" line.  I walked over to the priority line, and began to follow the line back some 100 yards to the end of the line.  This is crazy!  So I went back to the front of the line, where the "non-priority" queue was also located, and it actually seemed shorter.  I asked a BA security person if I should forgo the priority queue and just get in that line.  Her response: That’s not the non-priority line.  That’s just the group that they are allowing to wait inside.  The non-priority queue starts outside.  Around back.  Take a lunch with you.

As it turned out, I needed all of the two hours I allotted myself to get through security (Priority queue) and get to my gate.  In the end, I didn’t have really much trouble getting through (I had already planned way ahead and checked everything that could be remotely suspicious) but security was definately being much more careful, checking more bags and wand-scanning more people.  

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 5:29 pm  

Saturday, September 2, 2006

FINAL Summer 2006 Vacation Pics – Cuyahoga Valley

I’ve uploaded the final pictures from our 2006 Summer family vacation, these are from Coyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, OH. 


posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 9:35 am  

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