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May 29, 2011

Mexico City – A Suprisingly Nice City

The text message comes in from Fawzan as I'm transitting in Madrid (an awful experience).

Dude! guess which city featured on the World'd Most Dangerous Cities on TV last night? :D

Mexico City

I ended up travelling to Mexico City twice (cheers boss) in the Summer of 2009. The direct BA flights were always impossible to get an economy ticket on, so I had the privilege of using Iberia on both occasions. A long 2hr flight from London to Madrid, and THEN you start your mammoth 13hr journey. I would land at 6:00am and head straight for the customer's office in des Pantalons (yep) for a long day until 8pm. Best way to start readjusting to a new clock? Reset the old one.

Now someone in the airport will volunteer to pull your light suitcase 90 or 100 metres out of the terminal for you and point you at a taxi and then expect to receive some dollars/pesos for that. Save yourself the embarrassment of having no cash and don't let them! Now I'm belted up in a worn small toyota, and the taxi driver did about 3 hail marys. I thought why does he need to do that? We're just going to downtown Santa Fe?

Argh! We're going to crash into that stationary coach in our lane!

Zipping and weaving through traffic like there was a time-limit in each lane. Our taxi would end up at exactly the same level you would have been if you stayed in the same lane. At least some petrol was wasted on the way! I don't get latin drivers.

I got to the customer site and popped into a cafe whilst I waited for the Americans. Now this is when you get the foreigner ordering something he doesn't want. I somehow ended up with a toasted soft cheese and ham croissant (gracias) and a coffee. Now in Europe you pay for this with your Visa/MC. But in the Americas the roles are reversed, they give you a dirty look for presenting a low cost Visa to them and then request you pay with an American Express.

The Americans arrive and are very grateful for my appearance and sympathetic to my long journey. They seem to need to commute weekly from Dallas (3hrs). We get along well and the day's work goes quite well working with the Americans and the Mexicans and I manage to get a breakthrough - rewarding after a long day.

Travelling around Mexico City seems fine with the locals, the small areas you go for lunch seem nice and safe, the tranquil hotel lunches and the weird Polanco hotel district seems good too. The best part is when you go out on those highways over the mountains to the other towns. Remember playing those driving games in the arcade where there are 3 lanes either side and they twist and curve along the mountains ridge? That's what it is like there.

Mexico is hot, about 25degrees but only slightly humid. And one of those places you have to remember not to drink the tap water.

MonterreyMexico City 1

I even had the chance to go to Monterrey on my second trip. This meant a 2hr Madrid flight, 13hr transatlantic (business fortunately), then another domestic Monterrey flight 2hrs. I think that may have been the definition of tired. Monterrey is just flat land in the middle of the valley, with lots of factories inside. Everything manufacturing related was here.

I stayed at the Intercontinental both times in MX and in Monterrey. Seems more classical styled (verging on aged?). I had to extend my stay by 1 night once and the Continental was full on the Tuesday night, so was the Nikko next door. It seems the demographic of people going to MX city seemed to be businessmen. Rooms at weekends must have been freely available. Fortunately a double double-bed room was available in the W. I missed a trick not using this hotel for the past 2 stays! They had ipod docks and USB connections on all their stereos, a funky bathroom where the shower was a cup in the middle of the room and the head just popped out of the ceiling. And of course the W does not believe in frosted windows nor bathroom doors. Now I thought it was cool to have a shower whilst looking out at the city from the high vantage point, but the American's room had no frosted windows in the actual toilet part! So his party piece was being able to tell people that he would be sitting on the 'throne' and have an unbridled and amazing view over the city.

I would say it didn't feel too dangerous when I was there. Admittedly I was at Polanco where the cream of the crop seem to hang out. But the odd local lunch place we went to seemed nice and fine. They said it was probably the North of the country which would be the most dangerous. And everyone I met were very nice and friendly.

So I leave you with some tips:

  • Stay at Polanco, W Hotel if possible
  • Don't buy Tequila from inside the airport if you're transitting via somewhere, you will have a short Spanish lady in Madrid Security shouting at you
  • Don't get an adjoing room in the Continental hotel, as your neighbour WILL bring a prostitute back with him at 2am to disturb your sleep! (You can tell from the fake laughter)
  • Keep with the local food in moderation. Try to have beer.
  • Avoid the British/Irish Pubs that undercook the beefburgers (the lights are so dim you won't notice your eating steak tartar); No amount of Duvel 8.5% will save you from the inevitable at 3am in the morning

July 21, 2009

The Parthenon

The Parthenon (C) Nathaniel Ho 2009

© Nathaniel Ho 2009

Camera: Canon EOS 350D
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6
Filter: Skylight 1A
Date: 14th April 2009 18:52
Location: Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Focal Length: 18mm (equivalent focal length: 29mm)
Shutter: 1/125s
Aperture: F/14
ISO: 100
Post–processing: can't remember - minimal contrast boost I think

March 14, 2009

Dublin 2009

Bank of Ireland (C) Nathaniel Ho 2009 Trinity (C) Nathaniel Ho 2009

I was on trip to Dublin this week on a work assignment. Going out there was brilliant: 30 second check in at BHX, 3 minute baggage reclaim at DUB, a quick AirCoach connection and a quick walk through the grounds of Trinity College to get to my hotel.

It was nice to return to again Dublin and doing my homework 9 months ago certainly helped! My experience of the O'Callaghan Davenport hotel was good. It was in a perfect location for my needs south of the river. When travelling for work you have to get used to dining alone! My favourite destination was the Millstone on Dame Street. I tried the Ostrich burger - it's frankly awesome meat. I managed to get an a few hours off on my last afternoon to visit the National Gallery and the Old Trinity Library.

Obviously this good fortune meant I was in for some real poo on my return. My flight was delayed for 2 hours and I had already got to the departure lounge 2 hours early! It didn't help that I was visiting Dublin during my 'no alcohol' month. So I wasn't able to make have an Irish coffee or have a Guiness during the four hour wait! It. was. hard.

October 10, 2007

Travels 2007 Part III: Germany

Germany 2007 1Getting to Izzy's village took about 7hrs. She's another country bumpkin - after spending the summer in the middle of nowhere in Surrey I was quite used to it! My ticket to get from Liege to Koeln cost €17. My Intercity train ticket from Koeln to Bielefeld strangely cost  more at €37! Still cheaper than UK prices I guess. 

So far on my trip I everything had been quite easy. Phone calls, text and multimedia messages work everywhere and I'd paid for everything in Finland/Denmark/Belgium with the universal Mastercard (only suffering a 3% exchange spread). But in Germany, they don't take cards in half they places you normally use it. (And I'm not talking about using in the I'm-going-to-take-the-piss-and-buy-a-newspaper in cost-cutters use). This I found quite strange, as I had managed to get everywhere without pulling any cash out.  Oh and say for instance you have a internal bank account, you can't pull cash out of any ATM, you have to find your own bank's ATM!

That aside Germany was quite clean and smart. I wasn't too tired after my Thalys and intercity trains, so Izzy took me out to meet her friends in Bielefeld. Sitting in a typical modern Café Bar, there were 3 plasmas showing sports on one, news on the other and on the third one... a WWII documentary! Not a good impression to give me on my first visit there! Sebastien apologised and said "this is not what we watch everyday!"

Izzy tried to dig out some embarrassing stories about herself that her friends could tell me, but unfortunately, it turns out she's a bit of a goody-two-shoes. So I naturally had to tell them about the time we embarassed her by bawled out the German National Anthem on the Warwick Piazza! Eventually I went straight to the source: Izzy's mum, and asked for all the baby photos!

Despite being on holiday, I was still programmed to get very early 7AM BST and monday was no different. Izzy and I met up with Nina (her best friend since primary school) and we went off to see some touristy things in the local areas such as the Hermannsdenkmal and the Externsteine which are both near to Detmold. That day was finished off with more continental: sit-in-the-sun-eating-ice-cream-in-a-trendy-cafe fashion. 

Germany 2007 2Germany 2007 Externsteine

Tuesday was the day trip to Cologne. Corinna (my old erasmus flatmate from from first year) met up with Izzy and I there. First port of call was the Chocolate Museum. That was great. Then we went to the Cathederal. Lotte had warned me about the "ugly with black stones" Cathederal, but when I first saw it, it was beastly, but I strangely found its vulgarity appealing. Much like those Stuttgart vulgarmobiles with "63 AMG" written on the back. Ugly as hell, but strangely you offer it some respect. We walked around most of Cologne's shopping places when my tour guides Izzy and Corinna revealed they didn't know what else we could do. So we spontaneously hopped on the next train to Bonn.

Germany 2007 13Bonn was the old capital and is very small. The university seems to be quite an important part of it. One of the highlights was Beethoven's house. This museum contains some excellent letters that he wrote to the King of England and a large digital archive of his music.

Getting our way back to the Guetersloh from Bonn took a long time. You forget how BIG Germany really is. So long day trips are not always as easy to do.

Wednesday was a good day. Firstly Izzy received her acceptance letter from Hannover Uni to read medicine! It was nice that I could be around for that. We then went off to an Enginerd's Mecca. The Heinz Nixdorf Museum - the world's largest computer museum. Documenting the past 2000+ years of computers. From a etchings in a stone to the enigma machine, to mechanical calculators to Cray machines, it had pretty much all of it. Unfortunately for me, most of the descriptions and wall plaques were in German. And deciphering German geek language into English isn't easy!

Germany 2007 17Thursday was my last day. Izzy, Jonas, Nina and I drove for about 2hrs to Bremen. I read the folk story about the "Bremen Town Musicians" where a donkey, dog, cat and cockerel team up to become some muscians, but to our amusement, the online translator decided to refer them as the ass, hound, cat and cock. (Cue sniggering). Yeah, we're still 17 years old!

Fortunately the motorways around the quiet northern countryside area were generally derestricted. It turns out they like to cruise at 150km/h (just so that they don't use up too much fuel) which I think isn't that much faster that what you see people doing in the UK. Still on 2-lane motorways with lorries doing 90-100km/h pulling out, I still wonder if destriction should be allowed at all. But when the country is so big they do need it, and they are sensible enough.

Bremen should have been my first oppourtunity to see a "Rathaus" (that word you had to use in soooo many sentences during year 7 and 8 German classes), but unfortunately it closed when I wanted to go there. Bremen is a medium sized city and it has a nice character in the old places. Jonas and I marched up to the top of the Cathederal but that turned out to be a bit of a dissapointment. Unfortunately every shopping district in every city in europe is the same. You have a H&M, Carphone Warehouse, Subway etc etc. So in some ways if you've seen Watford, you'll have seen 25% of all other cities in the world. I was fortunately able to locate "Bohnanza" the card game, which has become a special past time amongst some old Warwick friends (its definitely better than poker night). At about 6pm, they drove me to Bremen airport (really small - 8 gates?) to fly back home to England.

I was fairly sad about leaving Germany. Not only that I wouldn't see Izzy for a while as she's permenantly back in Germany now, but the fact I had to return to working! (I complain too much).  Many thanks to Izzy, her family, her friends, and of course Jonas.

Anyway I had a great time during my 10 day trip on the continent. It wasn't that relaxing but at least I got to do a lot within the small timeframe I had before going back to Uni. Lotte's and Izzy's mums are excellent cooks, and I was very well taken care of all the time. Must do it again sometime! Roadtrip summer 2008 anyone?

More Pictures

Travels 2007 Part II: Belgium

Belgium 2007 3

Wednesday 19th October 2007

By the time I got to Brussels at 5pm, I was pretty sick and tired of air travel already. I read all the papers that were in Anglais, and wrote so many essays into MMS's and sent them home, but I was still bored. The great thing about being on T-Mobile UK Flext was that when you're in the EU, you can send MMS's out of your allowance (SMS's cost more). I think I ended up sending about 150 messages home from Finland/Denmark/Belgium/Germany. So no one was safe from my spamming! :D

During the flight I read an article in the FT about Belgium's potential splitting up (due to lack of government for 100+ days), so when I arrived and greeted Lotte I asked

Am I in "Belgium" or the "Independent State of Brussels?"

To which she assured me that Belgium was still a country. The general British/French/German media protrayed the situation as a country on the brink of a civil war. Much to the amusement of the people who live there. I was there for 5 days, and not once did I see a Flemish person beat up a Wallonian - although I did see a restauranteur start a fight with another restauranteur, but that was probably business related (and french from the manner in which they fought). 

By the time I got to Lotte's hometown which was about 1.5hrs of more travelling, I was well and truely wrecked. Lotte's mum had made a lovely meat loaf, which unfortunately at the time I didn't feel like eating. The hospitality was excellent: I had two rooms to choose from! And Lotte's dog 'Swift' is  the cutest and smallest dog I've ever seen. We quickly bonded and within an hour or so I was already cradling her.

Belgium 2007 1 - Leuven - (C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

The next morning (Thursday) we walked around a lake in the local village thinking we would have a quiet day for me to rest, but then we spontaneously decided to see Eline in Leuven. Leuven is as you know, the home of the Stella Artois brewery and subsequently the biggest student city. Its a very pretty city and is largely dominated by the university and students. Its like an Oxford for instance, but smaller, and much more cleaner! Unfortunately throughout my stay I didn't actually try a proper Belgian Stella (I don't like the version we get in the UK) - nor a Belgian kebab (which John swears by). It was pretty much a lazy day spent walking around, eating pancakes and having novelty beers such as a "Kwak".

Belgium 2007 7 - Royal Palace Brussels - (C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

Friday was the day trip to Brussels. The clouds on the continent finally disapeared to reveal clear blue skies and hot sunshine (nice change to rainy 12degC Finland earlier in the week!). We walked around the normal touristy places, the cathederal, mannekepis to name but a few. Unfortunately I went to the Royal Palace one week too late. A great museum they have is the Musical Instrument museum, which was really interesting. Particularly from an inventive perspective, it was interesting to see guitars with 3 sets of strings and a concave piano for instance. The day passed in quite a relaxed manner, and a lazy dinner out in characteristic narrow street that was laced with restaurant tables finished off a great day.

Saturday was the proper day of relaxing. A short browse around local the town Hasselt and the local village allowed me to buy a nice stash of Belgian chocs to take home and to do more continental coffee drinking in cafe bars. It was nice to do some lazy activities after 11 weeks of office work. I discovered what a real Brussels waffle looked like:

Belgium 2007 11

So on Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Lotte and her family before hopping the train over to Germany. Thanks very much Lotte, I had a great time visiting you, your family, friends and Belgium again!

More Pictures

Travels 2007 Part I: Finland Work Trip

Lake next to the Vanajanlinna

After working hard at Nokia for 11 weeks I was lucky enough to be taken along to the annual team conference in Finland mid-September. Basically we were in a hotel for 2 days for presentations and to get to know our colleagues around the world. Basically there were a lot of presentations to let us know what direction the roadmaps were heading and how we should align ourselves to it.

At the end of the first day we had outdoor activities. It was typical Finnish (and English) raining weather and about 12deg. Still, we were all out putting on the green, laser clay pigeon shooting and kayaking. The evening was finished off with excellent dinner and chilling baking in the sauna with the bosses and colleagues whilst consuming a few cold beers. Oh and of course a dip in the freezing cold lake afterwards- wouldn't be Finland if i didn't!

It was a great last day at work and it was really good to know the people in my department and the sister departments a lot better. The next day I got a nice thank you and farewell from everyone. I left the conference early for Brussels to see Lotte and to being my travels. Unfortunately I didn't get to see much of Finland at all, so I will have to return again some day!

Helsinki is a small city so i managed bump into a Warwick friend at the boarding gate which was a pleasant suprise. We flew on the same connecting flight to Copenhagen, which allowed us to catch up and compare notes on the summer.

I had 1hr 40mins to kill at Copenhagen which wasn't enough time to pop outdoors and an annoyingly long time indoors in a really small airport. Browsing round the shops I saw a sweater for 200 Danish Kroner, and I didn't what the exchange rate was. So I worked out the GBP:Danish Kroner exchange rate solely on the price I paid for a sandwich and coke on the plane. 45 Kroner = €6 = approx £4.50! Right! The exchange rate is approx 10:1 - I can afford that purchase! Turns out I was quite close to the real value of 10.5.

August 25, 2006

Diary of Sweden

Last Thursday, whilst it was dark and the air still had a damp metropolitan smell to it, I departed the subdued and semi-awake London, I headed up towards Stansted at 5.00am. Check in was long (no suprise) even at 6.30am, flight was boring (no surprise). As soon as we landed the sun was beaming on the beautiful Scandinavian plains. Stockholm Skavsta, like all its airports are no where near Stockholm. So a coach ride put me right in the centre of town. I rendezvous’d with Hanna at the bus station. It had probably been almost a year and a half since I had last seen her, so it was very nice to see her again. Despite living on 4hrs sleep and the time was 14.00, we wasted no time in going back to her sister’s flat to dump luggage and set off for sight seeing.

StockholmOld Stockholm

Stockholm is based on large islands seperated by the seas, so any walk outside will normally be quite picturesque (eat your heart out Lakeside). We headed towards the ‘must-see’ old Stockholm, passing a few landmarks on the way. Old Stockholm is full of colour and character. The streets are narrow and the buildings are tall. After more walking around most of Stockholm by 7pm (its small enough for walking everywhere), we took a paddling boat up and down the sea by Djurgården seeing the alternative view of the city from the water before we met up with Victor for a nice dinner on a restaurant that sat by the side of the sea. He explained why he liked it in Stockholm and the cultural differences between the British and Scandinavians. I think he summed it up very well:

In Britain, people are more polite but in Scandinavia people care about each other.

Longshot: For those of you who know Victor who graduated in 2005, he’s now busy doing a masters in Stocky, and loving it. Walking back towards the flat, we managed to find ourselves in a Kulturefest. The night was young but we went home to bed ready for the next day.

View from the waterBy Night

So the next day I awoke to the sounds of busy capital. The weather was once again 26 degrees and fine. Hanna prepared the typical Scandinavian brekfast, which was pretty much the same style as I normally eat at my sister Nadia’s, except for the selection of 3 butters, 4 cheeses, 5 veg, 4 cereals, 4 milks/yoghurts and so on… Hanna and I got stuck straight into the City Hall straight away. A nice guided tour of the building which was very abstract for its time and contained many elements from other European styles and cultures. From the picture of the ceiling below, you can see it has been designed to look like a viking ship upside down, as the vikings used to hold meetings under their ships. After City Hall we headed towards the Vasa Museum, which is a huge war ship from the 17th Century that had sunk on its maiden voyage (eat your heart out Titanic) and salvaged in the 1960s and put on display. Interesting fun for everyone including enginerds like me and historians. The sunny afternoon was spent in Skansen park, incorporating a zoo, historical buildings and homes, and workshops all showing the culture in the 19th Century. So I was now quite knowledgeable in Swedish culture and history. The park is vast in size and you can spend pretty much a whole day there – a very nice place to walk around. The guy who created it bought many houses across the whole country and literally moved them to the park. Along with people dressed 19th Century style with pottery, glass making and a variety of animals from elks to bisons to seals. We ended the day with our little barbecue in a park closer to home. As the temperature dropped we headed in to the appartment to watch trashy movies on TV3 which almost became a daily ritual over the following days.

Stockholm City HallCity Hall CeilingThe VasaReindeer

Saturday we headed back to Hanna’s hometown of Motala in the South East. 47th largest town in the country. And she lives in a farm estate just outside of it. After meeting her family at the beach house at the edge of that big lake, Hanna and I headed to the town for a cycling tour with her coach. However, me being the non-athelete kept falling behind, and I didn’t see any of the scenery or local areas – primarily because I was too busy staying alive… and respiring. It had started to rain by now. We headed back to her beach house a swim in the lake – I’ve never voluntarily gone for a swim when it rained – hey! first for everything – needless to say it was er… refreshing! The evening was finished with a tasty dinner with the family – her mum cooked a fantastic lamb roast. The family were all fantastically welcoming and hospitable, with jokes and anecdotes shared over the table. I pretty much blended into their family life over the next few days.


The rest of the time was spent in a more quiet manner: chilling out, walking around the countryside, forests, the town of Motala, its Motormuseum, doing my part for the Swedish Conservative Party by helping paint their campaign hut, fishing for crayfish in the lake, learning Swedish drinking songs and having a ball of a time. The tranquility of living next to a lake helped me wind down. Hanna’s best friend from uni, Helena, joined us on Wednesday. It was her birthday so we made her a birthday cake, and we had a great “crayfish party” which allowed me to put my drinking/folk songs into practice! And before I knew it, it had been 8 days and I was on the way back towards the horrible airport called Stansted, whilst Kings of Convenience songs echoed in the back of my mind. On the plane I managed to sit next to two students Tony and John from Exeter who had also been on their first trip to Sweden, we exchanged notes and tales. And as the plane landed back in England, we moaned at the boring normality that we had to return to. It was a great trip, a great country and I am extremely grateful for Hanna and her family’s hospitality and I’d love to visit again. Missing it already!

Hanna & IHelena & Hanna

Selection of the pics I took

August 16, 2006

Anyone been on a plane lately?

Right I'm going on a short flight to europe tomorrow. I am going to carry a rucksack bag that is 3cm too high than the allowed 45cm x 35cm x 16cm. And if they don't let me on, then it'll be a real joke. And I'll have to carry my camera, cap, tickets, documents, sweater in an Asda bag. Luckily I'm not going to be carrying baby milk…

Ryan air has left scathing attacks on the government's lack of support in bringing in more personnel to help security checks on their website. Apparantly 40 of their flights today were delayed, 10 by over an hour. Very nice. Wish me luck.

March 22, 2006

Don't use the M1 until 2012

It used to only take 1hr 20 mins between NW London and Cov. Literally that time door to door. I sometimes pondered if it was possible to do that journey in 1hr??? The London-Cov 1-hour Challenge, that would be amazing. Faster than the commute from Leam to campus sometimes!

But I'm moving away from Stanmore in NW London soon into N1. So in future I'll have to contend with city traffic. And to make matters worse. They're now adding a "Pool car" lane along the whole of the M1, between now and 2011. The road works extended todays journey by about 20 mins. So basically I'll never be able to attempt that challenge… ever!

So now I'm up at Warwick;, had a nice coffee and chat/catch-up session with Pia. Found John Baillie exactly where I left him in F211 two weeks ago! (Some people are working hard). Found that other people have been struggling with Laser Rate Equations and managed to finally start on lab report. Been a good day.

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