I was in CUBA – my review of the SARATOGA

August 9, 2010

Note : I was in Havana at the end of July 2010,a place I have always wanted to go.. I ENJOYED it people. Hear ye!! I ENJOYED IT!!!!  . I was also humbled by its glorious past and its spirit to survive and its  sheer simplicity. The SARATOGA is a hotel in Old Havana. This review first appeared in TRIPADVISOR

The SARATOGA  has got class, Cuba style. As what people say class is difficult to define and achieved. The Saratoga can be considered as boutique and the class it has, is achieved without trying too hard, which I like.

If you wish to avoid the other popular but crowded hotels with boisterous tourists and aircrew filling up the swimming pool then the saratoga is just perfect. This is not a business hotel.  Or if you want to be hooked on to your facebook then this is not the place for you. It is a place for you to enjoy the quiet, the ambience, the smell of cohibas while sipping your mohitos or the havana blue.

Considering that it is government-owned, and a socialist one for that matter, the front office staff of Saratoga was not that bad. They may lack the entrepreneurship discretion, delegated authority and service culture but they were far from being the non smiling soviet style stereotype. . They always tried to help without being intrusive. You will be approached for contraband cigars and taxi to the airport and if you do not like it a polite no will suffice to keep that host/guest at the appropriate comfortable distance.

At first impression the lobby looked small but soon I got used to the sense of space provided for by the restaurant next to it and the 24 hrs mezzanine cafe. I must say the mojito at the cafe was the best. Breakfast spread was average and for someone who do not stuff in to avoid lunch, I found the breakfast spread to be just nice for me. The service at the cafe and restaurant was excellent. But you come to CUBA not to complain about food, because you very well know that havana is not the place for good food.

I took the junior suite. By Asian standard it was small but off course it would be reasonable if you follow the European standard. The grand capitol was the view from your room. At sun set it was quite a view. The room and bathroom were relatively new and standard of cleanliness was high. The linen, the robe and towel were the kind I liked although a couple more fluffy pillows would make it very much at home. I did not like the tiled floors, but soon I got used to be in slip-ons which I have to ask from the maid. I was first put in the suite on the top floor. My request to be moved to the lower but bigger room was favorably and politely entertained.

The rooftop restaurant and swimming pool was not well patronized. In any case  I was not in Havana for the pool.

I soon learned that luxury goods and service in CUBA was not cheap and accepted it after considering the embargo. With that attitude you will enjoy HAVANA. The superior quality cigars and the rum, the music and dancing balanced up the economics and compensate for the amount you pay for good hotels and service.

The Saratoga was strategically located. The Partagas factory was just a 100 m away and all other attractions within the Old city was within walking distance. The sights within old haban were within the 3CUC taxifare. But at night be prepared to pay more. I decided to hire the horse-drawn carriage with an English-speaking historidos as our coachman and that was just perfect to explore the city.

I liked the SARATOGA.

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Damn the Parisien Traffic

June 17, 2009

I missed my flight to Dublin. I left the hotel at 8. The bellboy was in his element. As if knowing that I was going to give him a generous tip, he went out of his way to secure me a taxi to Aero Gare  De Gaulle. I gave him ten Euro.

The Lebanese driver was not not that smart. It was not a familiar route . Why did he go through Champ Elyse? Why did he pass through  le Bourget knowing fully well tha salon le bourget would cause tremendous jam.

We arrived at terminal one at qurter past 10. The flight was to leave at 10.25 . I never like terminal 1  of de Gaulle.
I went round in circle. Still I could not find Aer Lingus.

So I decided to take the train to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar.

Damn that driver! It cost me 75 euro!!

But I was so cool. This was just part of a traveller’s fun. Enjoy the eurostar!!! Here I am enjoying my glass of champagne as the train rolled down into the tunnel.


Dinner and cocktail in Paris – the cost of doing business

June 17, 2009

I had dinner at Le Avenue a favourite restaurant among americans and the Brits along the Avenue Montaganie, a posh address. The food was good. It was with my Irish brother and my blond  English cousin Emma.

I attended the cocktail reception at the show. The minister was there. The Chief was there. The Sec Gen was there and so were many old acquaintances from the industry.

That’s about  it.

The flight tickets  cost a good twenty grand. You add the cost of hotel and food you end up spending a tidy sum. That is the price you pay to be involved in the industry and I do not complain. You just have to combine business with other businesses and to spice it with the pleasure of travel and meeting friends.

I will be flying to Dublin to see a manufacturing facility. No more crazy horse for me.


Back In London Part 2

October 12, 2008

Surprise surprise. The immigration officer was exceedingly nice and polite. We chatted about his visit to Malaysia, the Blue mosque, the Masjid Negara and Masjid Jame. I am a muslim he confided. My salam was genuinely responded from the heart.

The Christmas shopping has started. There was a crawl along Kensington High Street.

It is nice to know that my alma mater  UCL is now  Seventh in the World Best University Ranking. UCL the Godless University, the term used by the Church for the fiercely secular University. I will give Sinead a call, if we could go out for a drink.

The 8 o’clock news was a mix of the worldly. The financial meltdown has not really hit the High Street. The Daily Mail has the unburied dead as its headlines. The high  cost of caretakers and funerals are causing unclaimed bodies in mortuaries. There was a special coverage on Mogadishu, the lawless capital.

I agree, the UK has its fair share of the third world, but it is the first world access to information and official news that I always miss about the oldcountry.

As for today, my Unggal has unilaterally planned for my iternary of Open Houses.


Back in London – of Malaysian Airlines, Langkawi, UCL and the city meltdown

October 12, 2008

I am back in my old abode. The temperature has been kind. It was 20 degrees yesterday. Unbelievable, for  it is the height of Autumn. Today it is going to be 21 degrees, insyallah,

The gloomy the news the better the weather said the TV anchor,

The flight was long. The business class seat helped but the dehydration and being curled up in 13 hours is just too much. The business class fare is just too high. At twenty plus thousand I have a strange feeling that the business travellers are subsidising the first class traveller. The first class cabin was empty. The politicians are just too busy to travel, I guess. Here I was seated in the first class cabin courtesy of my senior of the Old School. We had tea before adjourning to the cockpit. Why not follow the KLM way. They have done away with First Class. The business class fare is relatively lower at  sixteen thousand.

Even my new expatriate friend in the next seat was complaining. It was too much, we agreed. Matthew, considered Malaysia home. His admiration for the manner we Malaysians have been living harmoniously was credible and honest, considering the manner the British have been struggling to live in a changing neighbourhood. He was missing Langkawi, how he wished it was the Langkawi flight he was boarding.

To be continued…..part 2


Biejing wo lai le

April 8, 2008

Time to brush up my rusty Huayu or zhong wen. I am at the centre of the universe where the dragon head lies, forever watchful over tian an men or the world for that matter.

Everything is humongous.

The city is shrouded by a thick mist of dust, winter mist and discharges from the internal combustion engines. Back home it wouuld have been an emergency. No wonder the ethiopian marathon runner refuses to participate in the coming olympics.

Out of the city the thick mist remains but the ratio of dust and emissions to mist reduces greatly. The drive tpo the meitianyu through beutiful meadows and littke xiang xiang was enjoyable. It reminded me of the drive up the atlas mountain.

The great wall was awesome. It is a must see wonder.

We are now hooked on xian jiang food, We noticed the green signboards as an indication of muslim xianjiang food,

It is a dragon awakening. There is a frenzy of tree planting and wall building activities. Old hutong are being sheilded from sight. Trees and plants being planted in preparation of the olympics. Minus the haze it is such abeautiful city.

It will not take long before the air can be cleared. Chop off a few heads and the pollutters will become overnight environmental lovers.

It will be sometime before the dragon becomes first world. Spitting, throat clearing and nose jetting are die hard old habits.

Wo de hua yu hen bu cuo. i can get by.


Poole Dorset – The Brits are still USING IMPERIAL MEASURES / MILES AND FOOT

February 3, 2008

“You Brits are so ancient!!” I was exchanging banters with the taxi driver.

” The king’s foot ?” I said.

My “wrath” was not without reason. I decided to take a walk to Poole town. The road sign showed 3.5. Thinking it was kilometre I braved the gale force freezing wind. My ears went brittle, luckily the HB leather jacket and the long muffler  passed the artic test. The comfortable SF shoes proved its worth too.

Along the what seemed a never ending walk, I saw my old school, where as an impressionable 17 year old I was introduced to the other world. The solid premise where Lloyds bank was,  is now a car centre. The park with its breakwater  which also serves as a rail track was my first impression of Poole.

There are just so many things  I could not manage to do this time around: albert road, alan, winthrop,  don, turner, wessex bowl, hole in the wall, branksome, kings, dixon, the music shop, tiffanys , the list continues.  There were just too many firsts connected to Poole and Dorset.

My feet hurt. It must be the longest walk I have ever done, 6.4 km. On the way back I took the taxi. We stopped to buy fish and chips, and before that cornish pastries.

On second thought, I asked, why the need to change to SI, the french matric system , when you are controlling the world finance.  The french can do the work, the brits control the finance. On the plane, I read two interesting articles

a. A tale of three cities. London, new York and Hong Kong  control the word finance.

b. The highest paid professionals are those doing finance, relegating the dot com, IT and engineering to the lower rungs.

As I told junior, you do not need to do things I have done. You explore the new frontier.