On the Road

On the Road: 2002

October
13 October 2002

"I thought the locomotives, however oily and dirty, to be beautiful machines,
thrilling expressions of power, moving effortlessly through city and countryside,
as if they had always been there and the landscape had formed itself around them.
The other part of the attraction was something more primal.
The desire to move, perhaps.
Whatever it was,
there was never a train I saw from that day onwards that I didn't long to be on."
- Michael Palin, Monty Python's Travel Guru,
recalling his childhood for The Sunday Times (London, 13 October 2002)

There is a distinction to be made between traveling for travel's sake (meaning traveling for the enjoyment of travel) and traveling for business.

Business travel is overrated and I think it does things to people. How else can you explain the absolute pig sty the pristine business class section of an airplane turns into between Point A and Point B? It doesn't matter the length of the journey or the airline. Whether it be the longhaul flight from Denver to London non-stop on British Airways or the short hop across the channel from Amsterdam to London on KLM.

Wait a minute... I can't believe I just wrote that. Of course it's a sty because the jet-setting business types are, under their suits and ties and power outfits, nothing more than pigs. Newspapers, trash, airline headphone wrappers - all over the floor and on the seats. At least the peasants in the back (the people who wear shorts, to pull out an old theme) have the decorum to clean up after themselves.

Then there are the hotels. What exactly are those hotel and restaurant star ratings based upon?

The Sofitel I'm staying at in The Hague is a five star, but the door to my room makes an UNGODLY squeak every time it's opened (or closed), the room has worn out, beat up carpet, and I've been left waiting out in the cold for the front door to be opened by security at the front desk.

They still have the "old fashioned" keys instead of those nifty, non-descript credit card keys. And those keys are to be left at the front desk while you're out and about. Which leaves you subject to more waiting to retrieve your key when the front desk is busy.

And there's no AC (or AirCo, as they refer to it around here). None of the hotels seem to have it; perhaps because the summer here lasts for only a few weeks. But during those few weeks, I was forced to leave my hotel room window open. Even on the fourth floor, with my room facing an office building and the train station to my right, there was the incessant honking of snotty little taxi drivers in the queue of the Centraal Station's parking lot. The honk is apparently the international signal between taxi drivers to move their fuckin' arse up in the queue. As if there wasn't a queue to begin with and as if the travelers had any choice but to take the next taxi in that queue. Stupid, over-priced eejits.

The latest development in my room (having moved up to the seventh floor on this leg) is a light that's gone whacky in my bathroom. Going to the loo is now like an amusement park ride, complete with strobe light effects. When I made the issue known, the front desk asked if I'd like another room. Under the circumstances, I'm so tired of packing and unpacking, I'd prefer to deal with the crap light over the weekend (no maintenance guys are around) than make yet another move - especially in light of my likely departure back to London on Tuesday.

To top it off, only occasionally do they leave a piece of chocolate or a mint on my pillow.

The hotel's restaurant is a four star, and based on breakfast alone, I say the service is absolute crap. But I'm getting that turned around. They're recognizing me now. They know I'm a cranky bastard in the morning before the java strikes and now coffee shows up at my table without my even having to ask for it.

The breakfast buffet at the Europa, which I stayed at during the halcyon days of summer, is much better. But in exchange for the crummy breakfast, I no longer have to take the 20-minute tram ride to Centraal Station and then hike the hike. Now I simply have to hike the hike. Every minute counts in the morning, particularly when it's pitch black out there.

As for The Hague office I'm working in, it's nuttier than ever. Poor design all around with no capability of temperature control. The office itself is (still) toasty, but going to the bathroom is like a housedog going out in the snow to tinkle.

Also, the faucets in the office restrooms have only one tap for cold water, there's no tap for hot water. At some point while I was away from The Netherlands, somebody turned off the sun. In The Hague it's now pitch black at 7 a.m. and butt-frickin' cold in the mornings. October has rolled around and the difference is startling. It feels like I've lost a huge block of time because just a few days back I was in shorts... ummm... during my "layover" in Colorado.

Not paying close enough attention to the time of the year, it turns out I did an absolute crap job of packing for the change in seasons and I've found my arse shivering on many occasions. Considering I was to be back home 26 October, that wouldn't have been to bad to deal with, but now that appears to be getting pushed back. Considering the pandemic of indecisiveness on this project, it probably shouldn't have come as a surprise. But, these things have a way of sneaking up on ya.

And so it was that I made a trip down to Amsterdam in search of an FCUK "hoody" to warm my run-ragged body. After all, even through the nonsense of my "professional" surroundings, there is still joy to be had in riding the trains of Europe. Even if it is only that little 50-minute jaunt from Den Haag Centraal to Amsterdam Centraal.

The cold can be piercing, so I was anxious to get some warmer garments. But shopping for clothes in Europe is not exactly an enjoyable affair. I'm not a big fan of clothes shopping in the States, but at least there's an order to things and I know the value of my purchases.

In Amsterdam, FCUK is sold through the Bijenkorf department store. The selection was pitifully small (no hoodies!) and the men's garments blurred in with the women's. Luckily, I need an XL in the stuff and FCUK does not make XL sizes for women so I was safe from any embarrassing selections. The pricing seemed to be relatively consistent across Europe and the UK; the real problem came when mulling over Ralph Lauren's goods. The price gouging was a bit too much. Ralph can wait for my return Stateside.

That left me mulling over some pretty sketchy local lines. The Anderson Winter Clothes Acid Test works like this: If you hold it up to the light and you can see through it, it ain't thick enough.

Not really wanting to deal with the shopping scene in depth, I grabbed a scarf and sweater and headed off for a couple pints and some Irish stew at O'Reilly's. It was the sensible thing to do.

For this weekend, the emphasis is to be on resting. It's a bit of a foreign concept to me, but I've noticed that the one remedy my cold has best responded to is lots and lots and lots of badly needed sleep. While the homeopathological French drugs didn't work in the long run, the British Lemsip capsules certainly did a lot to kick the cold. But it's been the resting that seems to be helping in sending this lingering nag down for the count.

P.S.: At least I'm in The Hague. Check out this e-mail, sent verbatim from "The Atyrau Tourism Board," also known as the client's Office of Safety in Atyrau:

Colleagues,

As you may have noticed it is getting colder - winter will soon be upon us.

As of today we have started wearing survival suits as the water temperature has dropped.

Given that we now have a number of people resident in the Renco building I would like to bring to your attention the following extract from Operations Instruction 1.02 Atyrau Visitors/Rotators Guidelines.

During the winter months (Nov-Apr) the River Ural will tend to freeze over and you will notice the amount of local people who will use the frozen river to transit from one side to the other for convenience, you will also observe many fisherman sitting on the ice using hand-lines. From a safety perspective all our visitors/rotators are strongly discouraged from walking on the frozen river at any time. Many instances have been brought to our attention, of locals falling through the ice, emerging sometime during the early part of the thaw down-river.

It is simple common sense.

Regards

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