Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The week in Charleston, 21-27 Oct 2006

21st October - Saturday

The day started late for me. Probably still have jet lag...and the pork chop doesn't help either. After the daily routine of checking my emails via the ultra fast in room wifi, I headed out looking for the shop that sells Sebago shoes. According to the website, one should be on Alexander Street, while the other is on King St. Since I expect to be going along King St. quite often, I decided to check out the one on Alexander first. Based on the map, I would need to head east along Calhoun St.

Even after walking along the whole stretch of Alexander St I couldn't find the store, so either I got the wrong Alexander or the store has closed. Along the way, I had walked into a neighbourhood that was just awakening. The sun was out on the quiet side walks and some residence were probably surprised by a Chinese tourist walking by greeting them.

Since I was so far east, I decided to continue walking towards the harbour. That's where the Imax and Aquarium are located. There's also a long line waiting to go on the ferry tour of Fort Sumter. Howerever I have a meeting at 2pm, so I decided to skip those attractions and just walk along to enjoy the sights.

A few pictures taken at the harbour. The one below is taken near the private piers. The clear water and sun makes it look very tempting for a good swim except for the cold wind.

After the walk, I didn't have much time left before I had to attend my meetings, so I decided to hope into Juanita Greenberg's Nacho Royale. It's a mexican restaurant that I had read about before the trip. Inside the restaurant, there's a bar where you can place your orders. The tables are on the right side and also at the back. The place looks a bit old but clean and has the old town charm to it. I ordered the 1lb. Burritos (beans) and I think it's the biggest burrito that I have ever laid both hands on. No complains though, it was great.


22nd October 2006

Woke up real early to view the dawn in Charleston. Most of her inhabitants were still sound asleep when I looked out the window at 7am. The blue and orange hues across the sky was majestic.

After a short shower, the sun was rising. I just sat at the window sipping my first cup of coffee and drinking the scenery.

Meeting officially starts today on a Sunday. Stretched till after lunch and then there was a golf program. But by then, it has started to rain and I was dead tired. So I left those crazy enought to drive a small white ball in the rain, and retreated to my cozy room to sleep the afternoon away.

In the evening, we had our company dinner at a local Restaurant called Poochie Porch. It was 10 minutes walk away from the hotel in the cool evening. Most business have closed by then so the streets were quite deserted.

Food was reasonable tasty, though of course there were some dispute about whether the same food was better in Louisiana.

[....trip report to be continued...sorry busy season]

25th October - Wednesday




Monday, October 23, 2006

First day in Charleston, 20th October 2006

That's Continental's Embraer jet that took me to Charleston. The flight was slightly delayed but soon we were in the air and I was reading my new book. We were served with light snacks and juices/soft drinks. It was an uneventful flight and landed at Charleston slightly after 3pm. It looked like a cosy medium sized regional airport. Didn't have to wait long for my luggage at the conveyor belt eventhough there was another flight that came in with us.

Following directions, I walked out of the terminal building towards the counter for shuttle services. I was then directed towards a van with an African American driver. According to him I have to wait till he fills the van. I told him that was OK with me. The sun was out and there was a slight breeze. I felt the temperature must be around 25'C. It was just nice and cozy without being too hot. Conversation with the driver was pretty limited cause he found couldn't really understand what I was saying !?! Must learn to speak slowly.

The ride into Charleston didn't take too long and there was once I was drooling over the new Corvettes sitting on the transporter next to the van.

Initially, I wasn't too happy that we had been bumped to Francis Marion Hotel from the more luxurious Embassy Suites. However the organizers made fantastic arrangements and I had the 10th floor overlooking the Calhoun St. That beats the view from Embassy Suites cause that hotel probably has only max 6th floor.

Since it's a "historical" hotel, those modern design and deco is definately out. What I got is a relatively small cosy room with old style design furnitures.

That't the closet....located at a corner I never expected.

Simple but functional. However if you have lots of toiletries, it's gonna be a bit tight on that tiny strip of glass shelf.

The previously mentioned fantastic view of Marion Square & the Cooper River on the horizon.

The USS YorkTown can be seen from my room at 10x zoom. I had planned to allocate one day to visit Patriot's Point, where the YorkTown has been turned into a floation museum.

I was desperately tired from the jet lag but I knew I had to alter my bio-clock quickly cause my first meetings start the next day. So after freshening up, and getting an hour's nap. I headed out of the hotel for a quick look around the area.

Going out of the hotel, I headed south towards King Street (which is a tourist shopping strip), before cutting into Meeting Street, but still keeping my southerly heading.

Below is a picture of St. Michael's Episcopal Church (website).

There were a lot of historical houses along the way, and all of them have a plague outside detailing it's history. However because the sky was getting dark, I enjoyed the architecture without taking a lot of pictures.

After about 20 minutes, I finally reached the South Battery (Murray Boulevard) coast line just in time to see the beautiful sunset....

...birds flying back to nest...

Calhoun St. at night

After the long walk, I was too tired to go back down for dinner, so I just ordered in. I had the She Crab Soup (with cream sherry) as the appetizer.

And Pork Chops (if I remember correctly) as the entree. As you can see from the picture, it's two huge slabs of red meat that I thoroughly enjoyed.

After that, there's only one thing to do.

Overnight at Newark, 20th October 2006

The scene at the conveyor belt was very much like the one I had in LAX last year. There were no other passengers around except for a few workers and my bag had already been offloaded from the belt. But I was glad that it's there and soon I would be out of there.

Had to find my way to the complementary shuttles by taking the airport monorail. The cold night air was refreshing compared to the stale heated environment in the airport. There were lots of other vans and minibuses from other hotels arriving and picking up passengers. My view was blocked by another bus and by the time I noticed the Four Points van, it was already full. Just my luck. Thank goodness I have an empty bladder, and is ready to wait it out in the cold.

Expecting a half hour wait, I grab a more prominent seat and proceeded to sms my family and friends. There were less people now, with most of them departing in the other coaches. Within 15 minutes, the van came back and I was soon on my way.

The ride to the Four Points by Sheraton was less than 10 minutes in the late night traffic. It's location besides the airport helps too. I tipped the driver for his promot return.

Everything on the outside looks as I have imagined it, after much googling and views from Google Earth. Getting into the lobby, it was small but very warmly decorated. There were also renovation work going on. Check in was a breeze.

I had booked this room thru Sheraton's website but I had checked out all the reviews thru the yahoo and travelocity's travel sites. And there were some preety unkind words about this place, but I had decided to trust the positive reviews and booked it anyway. I had also chosen a twin bed room cause they were the only non-smoking rooms but is the same price as the single king sized bed.

Another plus for this hotel, complimentary in room internet connection. And it was blazingly fast...compared to Streamyx, that is. Too bad I was really tired.

And oh those 5 pillows on the bed are soooooooooooo soft and comfortable.

But first...a shower after more than 24 hours....

....then I have to get some dinner in me.

Luckily the room service was still available by the time I called because the menu stated last order at 10:30pm, and it was already a few minutes passed that time. So fried chicken it is.

Woke up to a cold and wet morning. Looking out, I could see the airport just as busy with planes taking off very frequently.

However, the condition was probably too adverse for this bird taking a shelter outside my window.

My flight was around 12pm and I checked out at 9am. I like the check out system in the hotels here in the US. I woke up in the morning with the charges printed, charged to my credit card and slipped beneath the floor. So in the morning, they just have to take my key card, check their computers, and in half a minute I was out of there. No waiting in line.

I had just missed the shuttle so I had to wait for the next one. There was a slight drizzle but it was not windy, so it's cool at around 15'C and I decided to stand outside the lobby, outside the entrance. As the minutes ticked by, I was getting worried cause the crowd waiting for the shuttle has been growing and I was thinking there was no way everyone would fit into the shuttle I took last night. But at exactly 9:30, the shuttle pulled into the driveway and I heaved a sigh of relieve cause it is now a bus. Phew! Everyone trooped aboard and soon we were on our way.

The shuttle brought me all the way to the correct terminal for Continental. The road side checkin was quick and efficient and after that I had my tickets and headed into the terminal. Security was thourough but quick and soon I was exploring the terminal. The flight to Charleston is slightly below 4 hours so I decided to grab a bite at Miami Subs & Grill
with a cup of wonderful Campbell's clam chowder (ok, I am biased towards Campbell's...it's been so long).

With a bit more time, I window shopped till I saw Borders. It's a medium sized store but have quite a wide variety of books to look at. I was thinking I really needed a book for the flight since I didn't feel like sleeping then. After a short recce of the whole store, I stopped at the latest books sections to check out the books.

"That's the best book I have read for a long time." the lady beside me remarked, as I was putting the book back on the shelf.

I had read the cover and though it sounded interesting, but I put it down cause most of the books on the shelf was good and I was just undecided.

"Thanks, I think I would give it a try.". That was enough endorsement of a book, so I picked up the book and walked to the counter.

That was how I was introduced to...

"The KITE RUNNER" by Khaled Hosseini.
(picture taken from http://www.khaledhosseini.com/)

"An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy to the atrocities of the present. "

It is very well written and the tale is very touching.

At the time of writing, it's not yet in bookstores in Malaysia. But I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Newark here I come....19th October 2006

I like flying. I don't get air sickness, I can live with the food and it gives me time to read or sleep without having to worry about phone calls. But flying to the US is another thing. It isn't the distance that worries me, it's just the fact that there's an outside chance that I could be in trouble going through immigration, or a terrorist deciding to target NY again after all these years....

My flight was at 8:50am and I had asked the taxi to pick me up at 5:30am. I never liked rushing to the airport at the last minute because you can never tell when you would arrive at KLIA to be greeted by the long lines at international check-in. This means I have to be up by about 4:30am. Doesn't leave too much time to sleep, since I only finished packing at 2am. Hit the sack, and proceeded to toss and turn like a roti canai on the frying pan. 3am, received and sms and still not awake. I was really getting worried this time cause I know once I really fall asleep, there's very little chance for me to get up in an hour and a half time. This being based on pass sleeping history. Thus I hugged the pillow one last time before kicking off the blanket and getting up from bed.

Arrives at the airport with 2 hours to spare, checked in and got seat 41G. As usual, I would take my time to go over to McDonald's to have my breakfast, but this time, the place was unusually packed. I really didn't want to wait in line, so I turned around, got pass immigration, and went to Burger King at the satellite building.

Right after breakfast, I walked to my gates. Since I saw there were quite a lot of people waiting at the gates, I found a seat further away and proceeded to log into the internet. It's nice to know that the WIFI provided by KLIA actually works and has a strong signal. I used to keep a list of "hotspots" location within KLIA in a spreadsheet but that's not necessary now. Most locations have very strong signals...only thing being speed not being one of it's forte. Anyway bravo to the management of KLIA.

By the time I went into the gate, my eyes were feeling pretty heavy due to the lack of sleep. It wasn't help that seat 41G is actually the aisle seat right at the back. Yes it's the last seat in the plane. The good thing is, I don't have anyone behind me so I can always recline by seat without having to worry about breaking someone's kneecaps. I also had the 3 seats next to me empty, so lot's of space to put my carry-on. Normally I would have included a book in my carry-on but since I didn't sleep that night, I had taken it out - really did not want anymore distraction than the ones provided by the inflight movie on demand.

MH90 took off on time (Goodbye hazy KL, here I come NY)with about 50 - 70% of the flight filled. I don't really have an idea since I don't get to see what's in front. In between occasional sleeps, I ended up watching Nacho Libre, Break Ups, X-Men III, most of the TV comedies and some documentaries....I worry for my flight home.

After about 13 hours, we landed in Arlanda Airport, Stockholm. We had to be screened by metal detectors and X-rays before going into the waiting room. Since we weren't allowed out of the waiting area, there isn't much to say about the airport, except that there's a coffee stand, a smoking area and toilets that you have to line up to get in. I spend the time mostly sending sms and before we knew it, it was time to board again. And again we were screened and people who were carrying larger than allowed containers of liquids had to dispose of them.

Since I would be arriving in the evening, I forced myself not to sleep on the flight over the Atlantic. We were served a hot meal after take off. Watched some more movies and after 7 hours, we reached Newark. Due to air traffic, our flight ended up in the holding pattern for about an hour...don't really know cause I wasn't wearing a watch.

Walked into an almost empty airport, till we reached the immigration. There were only 3 counters open for the non-US travellers. The officials tried to divert some to the US line whenever possible but with my perenial bad luck in lines, I got sent to a line that was moving at a glacial rate. After an hour, I was among the last from the flight, before it was my turn.

"Did you have to do the interview before?"

"Yes the first time, and this is only my second time."

More checkings on the computers.

Left index finger scan, right index finger scan, look at the camera.

OK, I thought I would be done and out of there.

"You would need to follow that officer to be interviewed".


Suddenly, the officer who was suppose to escort me got distracted and asked me to wait. He walked up to a chinese lady (from our MH flight) and told that no photos are allowed to be taken in that area. There were prominent signs all over the place, but I guess she thinks it's ok if she just takes one of her daughter. After checking her photo, the officer warned her not to do that again.

The office where the interview was done is brightly lit, with rows of government issued standard PVC clad cushioned chairs on one side and facing the counter. Now, the difference is the counters are located at much higher height, so you have to really look up to speak to the officers on duty. I walked by a few men that I remember from my flight and also 2 women, all seated. There were lots of chairs but I chose one at the end of the row, thinking that it would be a while before I am called.

One of the officers on duty started calling a name, I didn't recognize it and didn't care. I was prepared for a long night. But when nobody responded, he looked around and pointed at me. Oops...still not used to people mangling my name and calling me by my given name first. Lugging my notebook bag, I quickly walked over to the counter. I was hit with the standard questions about my visit and after another round of finger scanning and picture taken, my passport was stamped and I was on my way again.

...more later.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Planning for a long trip...

I was about to book a room in Ramada...just had to key in my credit card details...then I decided to check out Google Earth and found that it's directly in the flight path of the planes landing or taking off! Other then the noise, I just want to sleep without having to worry about the plane coming thru my window.

After another 2 hours of comparing other hotels, it is the Sheraton then, even though it had bad reviews....too much information isn't such a good thing. Now I have to sleep and get up tomorrow to make sure I have enough clothes, cash, credit and coffee ;)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Awana Kijal, 18th-23rd Sept 2006

Had a holiday coming, so we took advantage of the 888 promotion from Genting and booked the room for RM188 per night. The main reason we chose this place was for the golf course.

After slightly more than 3 hours of driving from KL, I checked into the room as shown below. It looks great and had a great view of the beach and the golf course.

A great feature. You could look out from the bath tub. However the shower is actually separated from the tub. It is also very difficult to get a proper water temperature....it really fluctuates between scalding hot and icy cold before careful twitching of the knob corrects it.

Overall, it was a great holiday. The hotel, however, could had been better.....they are all nice and friendly but lacks that zip that makes a hotel great. Things only get fixed when asked, as if the room conditions were never checked.

Breakfast was good if you are staying for not more than 2 days....then it really gets boring. I really enjoyed the Roti Canai but it seems that dish is the one they rotate throughout the week...and not that stack untouched beef bacon.

The gym also has only one tread mill...I have seen lesser hotels have more.

One of the bright spot was the Chinese restaurant we discovered just outside of Awana. There are also 2 Korean restaurants, a Malay restaurant and also KFC at that same area. Dishes are of course much cheaper than eating in the hotel and it's within walking distance. Thank goodness my colleague brought me there before, otherwise our hotel bill would have doubled.

Overall, it's a good place if you really need to play golf, get away from the city and don't mind the location.