Tuesday, October 31, 2006

So where will I be travelling next?

Well, in early december, New York. Finally the trip seems to shape up. It's confirmed between 8th - 19th of december, but the tickets are not booked yet. I'll have 2 weekends in New York which is really nice. Hopefully there might be some snow too. :-)

Between Christmas and New Year, I've just booked a trip to the Canaries Islands ... Gran Canaria to be more precise. Canaries Islands is a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, pretty close to Africa and on the same latitude with southern Morocco. Morocco was the first option, but then, as we couldn't make our minds up in time, it became more expensive then we would have liked. So in the end we settled for Gran Canaria, it's a package holiday as this was the cheapest way to go so late in the game. Flying on the 25th of December, returning on the 1st of January. The temperatures are likely to be around 20-25 degrees, so it will be New Year on the beach.

And then in January, a weekend in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. That's gonna be cold, oh yeah. This is booked.

And I'm thinking of carrying forward 5 holidays for the next year. If you carry them forward, you have to use them before the 31st of March. A trip to Dubai in spring would be nice, to visit Navid ;-). Or something else ... we'll see.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Amazon's 1-Click is Pure Evil

1-Click is a Amazon solution for shopping with just 1 click. No one else can use as it's patented like it would be rocket science or brain surgery. Well, in fact it's dumb and can catch you out. Basically it adds a button next to an item and if you click that, it does everything in one step: Add To Basket, CheckOut, Purchase, Confirm, Thank you for purchasing! Of course, it only works if you have purchased on the site before and your details are on the file.

It was obviously designed to speed up things. And sometimes it does. But some other times in fails dramatically and it's better turned off. Which you can do from Your Account. Turn the damn patented thing off.

Here's how it can mess up. Imagine you haven't shop in a while and your details are changed slightly. Imagine your address is old. Your transaction completes immediately, you get the "Thank You" and the item is dispatched to the wrong address. You don't get any confirmation, you don't get asked if your details are correct... straight to the "Thank You", please!

And if you're using Amazon's Marketplace (which is a sort of market for 3rd parties where anyone can open up a shop and sell used books), then you're really in trouble. And this is because the order completes immediately, your details are sent to the Seller and YOU CAN'T CHANGE ANYTHING ANYMORE. You can't change you address, you don't have the seller's details (except the feedback others' left). At that point you realise that the seller’s slate is not immaculate, there were problems before with people trying to cancel. And these sellers are not regulated, they can be anyone, provide any quality of service they want. Still Amazon chooses to endorse them, by suggesting you should buy from them on their main website.

However, when you call Amazon's customer support (which by the way, it's all outsourced to INDIA) they'll tell you that they can't do anything about that and suggest you write an email to the seller. Needless to say these sellers operate from their own garages and no one can really know who they are and what they offer.

So there you are, knowing about the problem but not being able to do anything about it. In the end, the seller will send the items to the wrong address. It's an outrageous behaviour towards the customer. Claiming your money back can take months and you might never get your money back.

I am into this situation now. In the end, the frustration gets to you. I have decided not to use 1-Click or Amazon Marketplace ever again. And Amazon is seriously downgraded in my books (no pun intended!). Continue to use them at your own risk!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monaco pics - part II

Urban landscape, Monaco

Moi, with the Grand Casino in the back

Moi, in front of the Grand Casino

Formula 1 fans will recognize the famous Monaco tunnel. My fans will also recognize me in the same photo.

Pics from Monaco - part I

The view of the port of Monaco

Fish in a tank at the Museum of Oceanography, Monaco

View from the top of the Museum of Oceanography in Monaco

Great view of the Museum of Oceanography in Monaco (Jacques Cousteau was the director for a long while)

Moi and Chris, in the Old Town of Monaco, next to the Palace

Change of guard at the Monaco Palace

The streets of Old Monaco Town

View of the port of Monaco, from the road to the Palace in Old Town

Same view as before

pics from Nice

A nice view over the port of Nice, from the castle on top of the hill

A view of the main beach in Nice, with the Promenade des Anglais next to it, from the castle

Same Nice beach

Same Nice beach again, street level

Me and Chris in the market

Moi, in front of the train station in Nice

Moi and Chris

Moi in front of the main beach

People on the beach, you can see the pebbles (not sand)

Thursday, October 19, 2006


On Monday, we decided to take a day trip to Monaco, as we realised it's too close to Nice to give a miss. And indeed, Monaco is located about 18 km from Nice and it's a 18-25 minutes on the train. A return ticket costs 6.20 euros. The train traverses a lot of tunnels that cut into the rocky shores, but in between the tunnels, you can admire the beautiful houses, right on the shores, built on rock, some of them right on the edge of the rock. It's a spectacular sight and I bet prices are spectacular too.
Monaco Monte Carlo train station is an underground station. In fact, it's a tricky one, as the lower level has an exit at the bottom of a rock, while the main exit/entrance is at the top of the rock. But the impression you get is that it's underground.

As you get out of the station, you're struck with awe. It's a very dramatic urban landscape. Because Monaco is basically built on a rock, and in layers, each layer higher than the other, from the sea up into the rocky mountains/hills behind. Everything is packed, the roads are narrow and buildings tend to be high and that can be a bit claustrophobic. It also exacerbates the problem of pollution, because cars transit the little state quite a lot. But the city is very very clean - it doesn't compare with Nice which I thought was a bit dirty.

As you get out of the train station, you walk to the right for a while and sooner or later you bump into the old castle of Monaco situated in the district called Monaco Ville. The castle is in a very good condition, and you can climb to it following a road in shape of an S. Once you get up there, the Palace is right in front. We watched the change of guard at 11.55. It's quick, it takes 5 minutes, but on a Monday there were about 300-400 people watching. I can't imagine what's it like in the weekend.

Next to the palace there's the old town, with narrow streets and a lot of restaurants, souvenir shops (a lot of Formula 1 souvenirs) and other touristy stuff. We had lunch there, a 16 euro menu including a starter (salad, pasta or one of the other 2-3 options), a main course (rump steak, escalope etc.) and a dessert. Not bad for the money.

The Oceanography Museum is just a stroll away from the Old Town and it's a famous place. The famous Jacques Cousteau used to be the director for many years. It's a sort of museum documenting a scientific expedition of Albert I, at the beginning of the century. It was in the north, close to the north pole. And then Albert 2nd followed in his father's footsteps. It's mainly how the museum started. In the basement however they have big fish tanks with a lot of fish from all over the world. They get the water straight from the Mediterranean sea with a system of pumps. From the top floor of the museum you have panoramic views of Monaco.

On the other side, there are steps taking you down from the castle, close to the marina. From there we took a walk to the other side of Monaco, it's a quarter called Monte Carlo. This is one of the 4th quarters of Monaco and it's famous for its Grand Casino (featured in James Bond film .. even in the next one: Casino Royale, which happens to be this Grand Casino in Monaco). Entrance to the Grand Casino sets you back 10 euros, so, as we weren't big gamblers we gave it a miss. Next to the Grand Casino there's another smaller casino with free entrance. It mainly have fruit machines. We wanted to try it out, and here's a funny situation. We only had a 50 euros note left, which was our money for food and bus back to the airport and everything. And we only wanted to spend 1 euro, or 2 euros. We didn't know how many chips we would get for 1/2 euros, but we imagined we could have fun even with such a small amount. Anyway, the guy at the office didn't speak English ... and he gave us straight away 25 chips of 2 euros each. He thought we want to spend all our 50 euros in one go. We tried to explain that all we want is 2 euros. But he kept understanding that we want 2 euros coins. Finally, he gave us just one coin, 2 euro coin and the change back. He probably thought: cheap bastards. Hehe. Anyway. We went to a machine and we were wondering how many games we would get for our 2 euros. We introduced the coin into a machine and we pressed reshuffle. 2 seconds later, it all stopped. We didn't win anything. And that was it. Game over. 2 euros in 2 seconds. That must be the most dramatic spending spree on this trip. How often do you spend a euro per second? If we were to continue at this pace, in one hour we would spend 3600 euros. So, we decided to stop at that point.

We headed back to Nice in the evening, got on a bus that took us to the airport and from there, London was 2 hours away. Au revoir France!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Nice is lovely. And I don't mean only the beautiful sunny october days we had there, with 23-25 degrees, in stark constrast with the cold, foggy London. The beach is great, 2-3 kilometers in length (the main beach) and followed everywhere by a long and wide promenade, called "Promenade des Anglais". Presumably because it's swarming with british tourists? It's a great sight on a sunny day with all the people walking, skating, cycling, sitting on benches, watching the sea. With such a lovely weather, no surprise some people were swimming. I refrained from swimming as a strong breeze in the afternoon put me off and the idea of freezing after getting out of the water wasn't very exciting. However, we did lie on the beach enjoying the sun, doing nothing, in a true french style. :-)

The only slight disappointment is that the beach is pebble stoned, not sandy. I was expecting sand from the famous Cote d'Azur. But the colour of the water is great.

And you can see that from the castle on the hill, which offers panoramic views of Nice and of the port on the other side of the city. There are some steps to climb and there's some effort involved, but well worth it, as the views are beautiful. The top of the castle was where the old medieval town was, but in the 18-19 century, it was transformed in a large garden, where nowadays people play football, just relax in the sun, admiring the views or enjoy a coffee in a restaurant up there. There's also a waterfall and a cemetery to explore.

Descending from the castle, you're welcome by the Old Town, with its narrow streets and the buzz of tourists attracted by the many restaurants, souvenir shops, book shops, ice-cream shops and other little shops. It's a lovely area to explore and enjoy. You can buy a french baguette filled with all sorts of goodies for about 3.50 - 4 euros.

As you walk to the west, you bump into a street market, true french style. Full of people trying to buy, people shouting, advertising their own merchandise or inviting you to taste before you buy. The whole atmosphere is a very friendly one, but also very vibrant and familiar. It's no supermarket here, all these people care about their food and it looks like they put a lot of their energy into these home-made delicacies. And that's the feeling ... it's like your grandma was out there on the street trying to sell her home made cookies.

The whole trip to Nice was made so enjoyable by the ever present sun. Not a single cloud, clear and warm days, with a nice breeze that makes it not too hot.

On Monday we decided to take a day trip to the posh Monaco, a 20-25 minute trip that would prove to be an excellent choice. But all about Monaco, tomorrow...