Monday, August 24, 2009

Mideast's first robotic car park opens

The first automated, multi-storey car park in the Middle East opened its doors to the public in Dubai on Wednesday, as part of the completion of phase one of the Ibn Battuta Gate project.

The new technology allows drivers to find a parking space without having to drive through a garage.

Instead, the car is left at an entry station and picked up by a computerised lift that places it inside the building on a shelving system.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aug 10 - Stavanger

Yesterday evening we set forth from Oslofjorden going back the way we came starting with a nifty maneuver of turning the boat around 180 degrees in a tiny space which was rather impressive. We go back across the Skagarrak, rounding the Southern peninsular of Norway and up to Stavanger, docking early morning. Bit rainy today as well but the forecast promises some sun in the afternoon.

We started with a drive up and down the hills checking out the high-priced real estate and ended in the city center where we ditched the bus and walked about a bit before crossing the street onto the ship. Stavanger is a small but pretty town with lots of rocks, hills, hiking areas, alpine centers and fit people. We went to the Utstein Abbey which had a very neat graveyard and kick-ass acoustics. I checked out a medieval Cathedral in the town center and then we sat at Dickens pub and drank a pint of the local brew. Some folks got some fish from the market across the street but since fish and beer isn't exactly my thing, I went for a walkabout instead and go on board.

High tea with Jean, a snooze in the sun on deck, bit of gym and then dressed for the evening. There was a play (The Importance of Being Earnest) with a very cute chap who's career I shall be following with extreme interest. Lions Pub this time with passion fruit martinis and short, fat, red, bald man playing Billy Joel on the piano. Had drunken giggles with Dr. Chopra and Sam at midnight, delivered potatoes to Uncle Hassan at 1 am, checked out the sad scene at the nightclub and crawled into bed at 2 am.

While we were living it up, the crew have been busy and have navigated us along the East coast of Norway, along Hjeltefjorden, through the narrows at Byfdn Bridge and entering Byfjorden into Bergen.

I'll also have you know that I have not turned on my phone once since landing at Heathrow and am not missing it one bit. Feeling rather pleased with myself for that.

Aug 9 - Oslo

We pulled into Oslofjorden in the wee hours of the morning which was very nice. It's beautiful with the mountains and islands on either side with the small houses and smaller boats. We drove around the Aker Brygge dock for a while and then went into a German U-boat submarine which was interesting and creepy at the same time especially since they had mannequins placed at strategic places like around sharp corners that frightened the pants off you. We saw the Opera House and Frogner Park with Vigeland's statues. We drove by Nobelsgate and saw the building where they give out the prizes. The guard at the Royal Palace was changing so we counted how many times they went out of step. Then we drove by the being-constructed Holmenkollen Ski arena and took a break at this lovely restaurant (special today: leg of reindeer, carved at your table) where all the thepla banshees brought out their snacks and started singing Hindi songs. I went for a walk at this point which proved to be a bad idea since the slope was slippery and the ankle was weak and down I went and scraped my knees. Weather was cool, windy and rainy so we didn't spend much time outside and the plan to go to the peninsula of Bygdoy was scrapped.

Today is formal night as well but after last night's fiasco, everybody is quite content to eat at the buffet on Deck 7. The serving staff seem to think so as well since they've laid out our Indian food there. The largest nationality on board is German followed by folks from the UK and then the US. India comes in with 20 and 15 of them are us.

Back to the Chart Room tonight. They have nice wines there.

Aug 8 - En Route to Oslo

Magic show last night was quite pathetic and Pops lost a corner of a $10 bill. He was quite deflated.

Today was a day at sea en route to Oslo. We cleared the Elbe River late last night and tooted along the east coast of Denmark, passing over the Jutland Bank, across the Skagerrak and will enter Oslofjorden early morning tomorrow. Days at sea are nice in that you don't have to wake up early (but we do anyway since we are tea central) and you get to bum around a lot which is my idea of a proper vacation. Read on deck for a while, snoozed under the fading sunlight and dressed up for our first formal dinner.

Now I don't knwo if you knwo this but when you travel with RK there is always special ordered Indian food. And so it was here as well. Jean, Pops and I were bang on time but everyone else arrived in drips and dribbles after our seating time. Consequently, service was a shambles, food was horrible (well their food - I ordered off the regular menu, clever me), RK had had a fight at the casino so was in a foul mood, people were told off for not dressing well enough, RK stormed out mid-meal and went to the buffet and all in all a royal scene was made by all. My escargot, in case you were wondering, was perfect. I retired to the Chart Room for some smooth jazz and went to bed early. Still haven't seen a film at the Planetarium but maybe tomorrow.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Pictures of the ship

These will have to do until I get back home to upload pictures from the camera.

Aug 7 - Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

Docked at Hamburg this morning at 7 am. Ate light breakfast in balcony while watching unloading of luggage and then dressed and waited forever for everyone to get their act together to load on the coach bus to take a tour of the city. Naturally the food came with us.

Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg is nice, doesn't seem very large (it's the second largest city in Germany) and is very clean. Fully two-thirds of the urban area is parkland, and in many neighborhoods, you forget that you're in one of Germany's most important commercial centers. We toured the harbor itself for over an hour - it's the second largest port city in the EU. Moved on to see the Alster River and it's two lakes, The Binnenalster and Aussenalster. I wouldn't mind living there, I can tell you that. Driving through the city took us past the Reeperbahn area which is the red-light district so to speak. It's mostly just one sinful mile with very entertaining signs for its establishments. It was at this point that everyone woke up. We stopped at the City Center for 30 minutes and all the aunties dashed off for food, Mum made a beeline for the shops, RK and Dad promptly sat down at the nearest cafe and smoked their hearts out and the kids raided McDonald's. The coach moved on through past the Opera House and other sights along the Elbe river and then was directed back to the ship by the hungry and bored oldies. Although how they could be bored is beyond me - they slept the entire way.

Back on board, late lunch at 3 pm, the cards game is on in our balcony (Jean/mine and Mom/Pop balconies are jointly command central now) and I took a nap in the sunshine on Deck 7 as we left Hamburg for the North Sea. Right ankle is swollen and painful but lying on deck and staring at the sea to the sounds of the new Sigur Ros album was very nice.

We have since travelled past Brunsbuttel and will be approaching Cuxhaven where the Captain has promised us fireworks. There is also a magic show tonight which Pops is very excited about after which I will either retire to the Chart room for some more therapeutic Jazz or check out the Champagne tastings at the Veuve Clicquot bar on Deck 3.

Off I go to the gym now. Had Boston cream pie with my late lunch dontchaknow.

Aug 6 - En route to Hamburg

Lost an hour this morning because of the time change and awoke bleary eyed but hopeful that this will be a good vacation regardless. A little about the ship:

The RMS Queen Mary 2 is one of the largest ocean liners currently at sea. It's 1132 feet long, 148 feet wide and 204 feet tall (above waterline of course) and displaces upwards of 79k tonnes when fully loaded (which, given the amount of luggage our party has, is quite evident). It has 4 Rolls Royce Mermaid Pod propellers and is powered by over 150,000 horsepower consuming over 3 tonnes/hour of heavy fuel oil and 6 tonnes/hour of marine gas oil - that's diesel and petrol. You can't tell when it's moving. The daily consumption of water is about 80 gallons per person per day - this includes water for cooking and washing the ship. Apparently the ship is being washed. Who knew. There are approx. 2000 passengers on board and 1000 crew.

Checked out the facilities - bookstore, library, spa/salon, pools, gym, courts, bars/restaurants, casino, shops, art gallery etc. Listened to a string quartet on Deck 2 right outside the casino where Mum had glued herself to the 3-card poker table. Dress code was semi-formal and seating at dinner was at 8:30 so of course, Dad and Jean and I were there on the dot looking spiffy and everybody else was late and underdressed. Special Indian food had been ordered but I ate escargot and red snapper instead while Soomi screamed like a banshee all around us. RK had a tiff with the cheaters at the casino ("what do you mean the maximum payout is $1000?!") and then was not given service at dinner since he arrived at 11 pm (us waiting the entire time for him of course) and stormed off to the buffet.

Went to G32 nightclub in the evening in the hopes of hearing some good soul music to get away from the maddening crowd but was accosted by a very drunk Shalin who proceeded to make an ass of himself (as usual) and then had to run away to the Chart Room where the Royal Court Theatre Orchestra soothed my sense with jazz jamming and Sharat/Deep/Aarti soothed my palate with good house wine.

Tooted off to bed then. Couldn't take it anymore.

Leaving England - Rickmansworth to Southampton

Woke up bright and early this morning to unpack, repack, depack and finally pack Pop's suitcases. Coach arrived at 10 am and it took an entire hour to load all the luggage and the people on. At last count, we are 38 folks.

Drive to Southampton was uneventful. Check-in was painless and by 3 pm we were in our cabins on board the Queen Mary 2. Light unpacking followed by safety drill and tea at the buffet line later we're on Deck 8 lounging about, listening to Caribbean band Vibz for "upbeat sailaway tunes". We set sail from Southampton at 5 pm. By 5:03 pm, every single person on Deck 8 was made acutely aware of our presence by the collective shouting from one end to another. At 5:30 pm, it was announced that we will be dining on Deck 7 at 9 pm at which point hundreds of our co-passengers changed their dining plans in order to avoid the extremely noisy and uncouth Indian posse.

Light dinner followed by drifting in and out of the casino and early to bed. Sharing a room with Jean with Mom and Pops next door - fairly comfortable so no complaints there. Tomorrow, all day at sea!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

But why don't you like Dr. Kapadia's son?! He's nice! He's very nice!

Sam has been found. Well, he was at Zanzibar the entire time and people have gone and brought him back and negotiations have commenced and concluded with him staying under strict stipulation of no drinking. All was smiles then and Pops and RK and friends then proceeded to jump into the pool with glasses of champagne and dance about like hairy midgets. It was simultaneously funny and scary.

Then the parents took a nap after lunch (more like stumbled off to bed in a drunken stupor) and I went shopping for foundation (neutral! I want neutral! this is too dark!) and underwear (XXL, y fronts only). Upon my return, more disparaging remarks were made about my appearance with much hilarity from mater (apparently fat is not only fun it is also funny). Then self was dragged off to dinner at Chetna's house.

I'm too tired to tell you how supremely annoying it was to sit with Screechy Soomi bellowing in my ears and everybody else freaking out about how we're going to get to dinner since none of us know where we're going and how Chopra's been a whining git this entire time and how Hasan is always pottering around in nothing but a towel and Jean is wound up about "that woman next door" and Dad going on and on about how he is always right and everybody is so rich and so on and so on...

I'm going to bed now. We leave tomorrow at 10 am, gawdhelpus.

On a happy note, I did speak to Simon at length today which was nice. And it's not all bad - just bits of it. I have to be more discerning about my vacation partners next time is all.

Kisses to Big D. Tell him about South African wines and their spiciness one day.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Hamara haal to theek hai, America ka pata nahin

Children under the age of 13 should not be allowed to fly. That should be an airline rule. That way they can't keep kicking the seat in front of them. I'm just saying.

I packed all sorts of fun clothes. Then I spoke to Black Cobra and she made me repack. Steffy nicely took me to the airport and stayed for a glass of well-deserved wine and dumplings (mmm, dumplings) and as usual I was eons early for my flight. Got to Home Farm Road only to discover that happy stress free vacation is not to be so happy and stress free.

I don't know if you know this but everybody in this group has something wrong with them. Either physically or otherwise. Now mostly, we have it all managed and everything runs along smoothly with the occasional outburst or mishap but this time, all was not well at #10. Sam has gone off the bend. Usually he just goes on the bender and breaks a few things (apparently) but this time he's lost it completely. And Mamu kicked him out. Said specifically, nikal jao mere ghar se types and after two days (and nights) of Sam running out of the house, being chased down dodgy canal paths, police people shining torches in your eyes and saying "wot's all this there 'en?", Sumi running back and forth flapping her arms all frantic, wife all upset and crying, Jean cursing up to high heaven and everybody else in mourning, Sam's gone. Run away. Left home. No one knows where. We last tracked him down to the Green Man but he gave us the slip, called a mini-cab and disappeared. He hasn't been heard of since. Naturally, everyone is very upset and people's appearance on the cruise is questionable since nobody in the family is really in the mood. To make matters worse, Chimney Shalin has retained his bad behaviour which makes both Chopra and Jean curse mightily.

On the plus side, Mum arrived today. On the minus side, the first thing she said to my loud "hello sweetie-pie" when I picked her up at the airport was "oh god, you're so fat". Similar things were said for most of the day and dirty looks were given to me at the dinner table which has of course, greatly improved my stress-freeness so far.

It's nearly midnight now and I can't sleep. I'm also bloody hungry which doesn't help. Sorry for first post to be all dismal and gloom but such is the cloud that hangs over #10 and 12 these days. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Kisses to Little D. Tell him masi will bring him a Norwegian frog soon.