Monday, 26 May 2008

Well, here I am in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, so why don't I tell you a little bit about the hotel and then the little US territory it is standing on?

I am temporarily based at the Frenchman's Reef Marriott and Morning Star Resort. There you go, that's quite a mouthful, innit?

Normally, I would now give you the website where you can look up pictures and stuff, but as I have recently upgraded in the pictures department I will try and provide the pictures myself, even though that probably means that the page will take 2 days to open. It also means that you all will be viewing this on screens of different sizes, so everything that looks okay on my little screen here, is likely to have moved when you look at it. It is not because I have had one too many!

The hotel might have more than its fair share of problems, but it certainly has an outstanding location with awesome views! Let's have some of that first.

Main Entrance Sign (2)   Main Driveway (2) Down to the beach  View from hotel

Helipad from above  View from Main Lobby towards Sunset Grill View from main level towards Beach Neighboring Mountains

Not bad, ey? As last year and also this year the main theme for some of you seems to be getting married, maybe you want to consider doing it here...

Weddings in Paradise Wedding Assembly  Wedding Chapel  Wedding Chapel (2)

I have pondered the last half hour if I should put up this next pictures. It might just be too painful for some of you, but as this is my blog after all, tough...

These next pictures (I swear to god!) are taken from my room. Yes, yes, I know... And the cruise ships really come that close...

View from my room 1  View from my room 2  View from my room 3  Cruise ship taken from my room

There is obviously a downside to it and a more sinister reason why they gave me (who can't really complain) this particular room. My room is directly beneath a restaurant, which Housekeeping management in their eternal wisdom have decided to clean at about 5:30am. For this, it seems to be of great importance to move all the available furniture (and possibly some other furniture carried in for just this very purpose) around several times. Well, certainly a few times more than really necessary. They also don't seem to make use of a mop or anything like that, but cleaning it seems is expedited with crowbars and pick-axes.

So, my dear cleaners, I know it is not really your fault that you do this at this time, but just wait until I get my hands on the old and trusted SuperSoaker 2000 (yeah baby!) again and we'll see if this can't be done some other time! (Insane half-naked German attacks cleaning crew with water gun at upscale hotel!)

And for the record, the TV and the air conditioning unit in the room are also sh#$te!!!

Nevertheless, the room does have a certain charm and attracts its fair share of visitors. Here is the most impressive so far that came by to say hello on Saturday afternoon. We must have looked at each other for a good 20 seconds from not more than an arms length. I could have patted him on the head if I had wanted or dared to. I am however proud to report that he laughed first....

Visitor 2  Visitor 3   Visitor 4  Visitor

There are iguanas in Curacao and Aruba, but the geezers here are decidedly bigger...

But enough about my room and the hotel, and a bit of information on St. Thomas and the US Virgin Islands. For those of you keeping notes, the islands are located at 18 degrees 20 minutes North and 64 degrees 55 minutes West, which means a little of east of Puerto Rico to you and me. They (as well as the British Virgin Islands) were discovered by ol' Chris Columbus himself on his second voyage in 1497 and comprise about 100 islands, inlets and cays.

The bigger islands (specifically St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John for the US and also Tortola and Virgin Gorda for Britain) have been properly inhabited since around 1670 when the Danish came along. The islands have also been in the hands of the Spanish, Dutch, French and English over the years, before the United States bought them for $25 million in gold to establish a strategic presence in the Caribbean.

Most major remaining buildings of any importance were built during the Danish rule and it gives the island a slight Scandinavian feel. The fact that you drive on the left is obviously a British leftover.

The islands are all volcanic and it is very mountainous. Some lucky guys got to blast away a whole mountain a few years back to extend the airport! It really is a constant up and down here. Some of the inclines beggar belief! It is a lot more humid, green and lush than Curacao or Aruba!

The harbor here in St. Thomas is the Caribbean number one cruise ship port of call and home to a large charter yacht fleet. Here are some more pictures.

Private Yacht   Cruise Ship   View towards Charlotte Amalie  View from hotel terrace at night

Now, where there is cruise ships, there is shopping and here its all about Jewelry, Designer Clothing, Perfume, Tobacco and of course alcohol. Good Lord!

There are no taxes on any of these goods and f%&k me, is some stuff cheap. I bought a liter bottle of Bacardi on Saturday for $7.95!!! That is only about 5 Euros or 4 Pounds in real money!!! Can you believe that? In case you need me, I'll be at the liquor store...

Well, I could go on forever here, but obviously I have a lot of drink to take care of and also I'll again be gently awakened at 5:30am by my friends above.

Before I go I have one more treat for you. You might remember from my last entry that I arrived here last Monday in the early afternoon.

The people who work for Marriott are called Associates and once a year its Associate Appreciation week, where there is usually all sorts of activities for the associates and even edible food on some rare occasions. Last week was Associate Appreciation Week. Here they kicked it off with a GSS (Guest Satisfaction Survey) Party in the Ballroom. Apparently the task was for every department to come up with something related to the GSS. Little did I know...

I arrived about 10 minutes before it was Accounting's turn... 10 minutes later I was on stage singing the GSS reggae... don't ask... and yes, Accounting won...

P1010601  P1010608  P1010611  P1010650

Yeah mon, and with that I leave you for today. There is lots more to report!

Buyaka!

Monday, 26 May 2008 23:07:03 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Well, from the feedback I am getting from you folks it seems that you enjoy my travel stories the most. Well, that and my stories about pretty ladies, but anyway.

In a way, good for you, because I am clocking up the air miles at the moment as it seems that my somewhat ah, questionable skills are now required elsewhere...

On Monday at 4:30am I was up and out of my home of 6 weeks, room 203 of the Aruba Marriott. 

At this point I would like to thank everybody who helped shape my Aruba experience. Among them all the folks in the Accounting and Systems Department of the hotel and especially John, Sylvester & Susette (we'll win the lottery next time) as well as my Aruban "parents".

I do have to say that I wish my "dad" would relax a bit more. He seems to think that his rebel child is only out to get him drunk, which (believe it or not) is not the case. Come on Mr. V, you know that at my (and presumably also your) age, hangovers are increasingly tough to get over, so yes, we could have gone for just 2 drinks on Sunday afternoon and I would have delivered you back to the wonderful Miss E intact and reasonably coherent. Really! Well, maybe next time...

Be that all as it may, I was on the way to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

Let's stop here for a minute. I am always trying to write this in a way that most people can relate to in one way or the other, but right here I am struggling quite a bit. Even though I have spent some time thinking about it, I find it hard to even construct theoretical circumstances why 99% of the people who are likely to read this, would ever fly from Aruba to St. Thomas.

In any case, if you ever do, here is some useful information I wish I'd have had....

I would not exactly consider myself a frequent flyer although I would think I am airborne more than most people. I also think I have learnt what to expect and how to behave around certain kind of travelers (this would be a whole blog entry in itself). So, some of this came to me as a surprise...

If you find yourself at Reina Beatrix Airport in Aruba pretty early in the morning and after checking in (no machines), be informed that you will first go through passport control and then through security screening. Yes, laptops go through the machine separately and you do have to take off your shoes, so please do wear decent socks (this is something that experience will teach you).

So far so good.  No surprises there, but this is where it gets interesting.

You will then (depending on where you are flying of course) clear US Immigrations in Aruba! So you do the whole picture taking and finger printing thing already in Aruba! You see, that would be good information even when you are booking your flight, as the connection time issue becomes considerable less dramatic.

Then, the first really interesting bit: At this point, you collect your luggage! Yes, your luggage! You have to collect the luggage you have checked in not 300 meters from this very point.

Next up is USDA, the always useful US Department of Agriculture who would like to take a look at your shoes etc., especially if you have been horseback riding or have visited a farm. They are also vaguely interested in if you have got a turtle or an iguana in your luggage. But of course...

After this you are allowed to man handle your luggage onto another conveyor belt and you're off to the next adventure...

Now this next one really got me and I think every single other person too. Yes, now is the time to go through security AGAIN!

I am not kidding. We might not have left the building or were even unsupervised for a minute, but it is off with the shoes, out with the laptop and everything... AGAIN!

Among the things I have also learnt is that there is no point in arguing with a government official, however not so the many American travelers. So, because of this, and the fact that for some specific reason not to be discussed here I am traveling with 2 laptops, this takes a good while longer....

Which, to be frank, is quite good really, because by the time I am done with all this, we have started boarding, so no useless sitting around.

I was really looking forward to flying American Airlines again. I don't know if you know, but they had a bit of a crisis recently due to some cabling issue or whatever and lost boatloads of money.

I really wanted to see what the CEO had to say about this. Trust me, when it comes to talking your way out of a mess, nobody does it better than airlines (well actually insurance companies do, but lets pretend we don't know this). Unfortunately, they have either discussed this already in the last issue or tried to avoid the subject. So, no entertainment there. Remember, it is now 7am and Sudoku only goes so far.

Puerto Rico

Enter the rather attractive flight attendant. She speaks flawless English, but obviously wants everybody to know that we are going to Puerrrrrrto Rrrrrrico (I'm going via San Juan, in case you're wondering).  Otherwise it's an uneventful flight and soon we are landing in San Juan, Puerrrrrrto Rrrrrrico (where the local time is the same as in Aruba).  To my surprise, the plane erupts in applause, which is something I will never understand.

Had I known about the Immigration thing in Aruba, I could have caught an earlier flight from San Juan, but so I have 2 hours to waste Bacardi 8 in San Juan Airport.

As the more dedicated drinkers among you will know, Puerto Rico is the home of Bacardi, images which in turn is a beverage rather close to my heart. What you probably don't know is that there is a brand called Bacardi® 8 (Ocho), which is the Premium brand and pretty goddamn tasty as well as really hard to get in Europe (keeping all the good stuff to themselves, the misers).

If I could afford it, I would exist only on Ocho con Cola as they say in these parts. So with nothing better to do and only about 17kgs of hand luggage so far, what better time to stock up on the treasured liquid? Imagine my surprise to learn that there was not an ounce of the stuff to be found in the entire airport! I mean, come on! I walked the whole place, but to no avail. Can you imagine that? Here I am in the Fatherland of the stuff and can't get my hands on it. Give me a break! I ended up buying the normal version with the white label, but could not help to be disappointed...

Well, eventually we are on our way again. Its just a short hop of about half an hour to St. Thomas and then I have arrived at my next destination. No immigration here, so no new stamp in my passport this time.images

A lovely fellow called George is there to pick me up and soon we are on the way to the hotel. Surprisingly, in St. Thomas you drive on the left! 20 minutes later we are at the hotel where I will now be for the next 3 weeks.

But enough for now. More about the island, the hotel and what I have been up to coming to this space soon. Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008 22:41:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Sunday, 18 May 2008

Well, in the absence of anything else of substance to report, I will just be offering you some of my observations today.

Let me tell you that I have been watching an extraordinary amount of TV these last few weeks. Pretty much needless to say that, maybe with the exception of House MD, most of it is rubbish. Hmm, actually most of it is Sports. Baseball, Football, Nascar and Ice Hockey. On occasion even Basketball, but I don't like it.

Anyway, when you are watching a lot of American Sports coverage, you are watching hundreds and hundreds of commercials.

Which brings me to my first observation: Judging from the target audience of these commercials, most Americans who supposedly watch sports (or any TV for that matter) are in a bad way and also scared shitless.

Let me explain:

This is a guess but in the European countries I have lived in, the average person who watches popular sports seems to be male, drinks beer and other alcoholic beverages, drives a car, has some type of games console and likes to do a bit of DIY or Home Improvement.

In America, the target audience (the people who watch all the sports) seem to own or rent cars (with some insufficient car insurance plan) while at the same time being incredibly in debt and worried about retirement, in need of legal advice of all sorts, require life insurance and some sort of elaborate home protection system as well as suffering from hair loss, high cholesterol, prostate problems and, of course, erectile dysfunction.

Like I said, very scared about now and the future and not exactly healthy. I find that amazing to say the least.

I will also say that if you need being told to see a doctor if your erection lasts more than 4 hours, you should not be out unsupervised. Enough said.

Right, I got the hotel car the other day and went to the Supermarket. No big deal you say. Right. But it brings me to my next observation.

Have you ever observed how people behave when they wait to pay and then actually pay in a supermarket? Maybe its just me, but isn't it amazing how different men and women are when it comes to paying? Perhaps I'm generalizing and discriminating, but whatever.

Here is how women do it:

After having their 2 gazillion items scanned, the cashier announces the amount to be paid. This without fail always comes as somewhat of a surprise to women. I'm not smart enough to tell you why.

Anyway, so once they realize they actually won't get the stuff without handing over some sort of payment, the search for the wallet/purse starts in the handbag. Depending on the individual and the size of the handbag this can take some considerable amount of time and even produce cries of joy once the purse is actually located.

Some especially dedicated ladies then use this very moment to reorganize all the receipts accumulated over the last 6 months.

Eventually some money will exchange hands. If not paying by card, the women will invariably hand over the note requiring the most amount of change which then will of course require putting away more notes and coins in different sections of the wallet/purse/handbag.

By this time, the young guy who bags the groceries is making plans for retirement. Just when you think it might eventually be your turn, she is back to collect the receipt!

There is all sorts of variations to this. My favorites involve mobile phones and hyper-active children. In all fairness, it is never boring to watch.

Men will use all the time the women ahead of them take to calculate the approximate amount of their shopping and check their available change. Then hand over an amount requiring either no or only very little change. They will then use one of their hands to pocket the change while taking the receipt with the other hand. While they do this they already start moving away. Amazing ey?

I always try to make a point to show off our somewhat superior skills, but nobody pays attention and also it would be quite boring, albeit vastly more efficient, if everybody would be doing it the "male" way.

Okay, I do have some more observations about Drive-Ins, babies in accounting offices and some other stuff, but you'll have to excuse me now. There is beer to drink and I have some packing to do. Will be traveling again soon!

Take care and Greetings from Aruba

Sunday, 18 May 2008 03:26:28 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  |