Bye Bye Dubai

The continuing saga of the RoadShow trip…
Dubai is a pretty neat place.  They tell me that approximately 1/3 of the world’s construction cranes are in Dubai.  I have no idea how many cranes there are in the world, but I counted at least 37 that I could see from my hotel window.  Very diverse population a lot of arabs, of course, but also a surprising number of east asians.
So, Tuesday morning we awaken and still I have no luggage, but the hotel is being very aggressive at tracking it down and by 0900 the concierge calls me to tell me they’ve found my bag and it’s at the airport.  Knowing that we’re leaving for the airport ourselves in 2 hours I ask him to just have them hold the bag there and I’ll pick it up when we get there.  You can imagine my relief when I finally have the bag back in my hands and we’re off to check in for Istanbul.  Or are we?
At the check-in Jim and I discover that while we do have reservations, we don’t have tickets.  Remember – this was a change.  Our tickets were for the following day and Penton (our sponsors) decided to move it up one day to give us an extra prep day in Istanbul.  So we end up having to pay the change fee (Penton will reimburse, of course) and after considerable delay finally get through the check-in process and get boarded on an Emirates Air flight non-stop to Istanbul.
Let me say a few words about Emirates Air…if you ever have the opportunity to fly them, do.  I’ve never seen such accomodations in economy/coach before.  Big leather seats, personal video systems at every seat, more than 100 movies to choose from including some fairly recent releases.  Most airlines with on-demand video now include an episode or two of American TV — the Air France flight coming out allowed us to watch an episode of CSI or Friends if we liked.  On the Emirates flight I chose to watch an episode of House.  That went fine and just as I started to ponder what I’d watch next…a second episode of House began.  Followed by a third.  Apparently they have the entire SEASON avaiable.
The have a library of CDs and over 40 video games on the system as well, AND power outlets at the seats (including 110 volt with USA-compatible plugs) so I could plug in the laptop and get some work done.  Also on the video system they have both forward-looking and downward-looking cameras that are always on – so you can watch the runway approach as you land, or watch the landscape slide by beneath you as you fly.  Forget the window seats, just pull up the camera!
The food was good, the service courteous, they passed out hot hand towels before the flight.  It was like flying First Class on a coach ticket.
We arrived at Attaturk Airport in Istanbul.  Seems like a curiously self-congratulatory name for an airport but it is a nice airport so I’ll give them a pass on that.  Bought our Visa’s which Mark observed were really just a foreign currency generating scheme (since they asked no questions; simply accepted our money, gave us a sticker and sent us on our way) and then stood in line for the passport check.  While in line we noticed an older fellow, obviously American, loudly asking a couple of guys from UAE a few somewhat stupid questions about their country.  Mark nudged me and said with a wink "That’s why we hate Americans."
We collected our bags (WOW, I have a bag!), swung through the currency exchange to buy a few Turkish Lira and quickly found our driver for the ride to the airport.  We were the only three passengers in a 12-passenger bus for the ride to the Conrad Hilton and we quickly discovered that Istanbul and Dubai are like totally different countries. (yes, I know)  Istanbul is more crowded, louder and somewhat more run-down (of course it is a millennia or two older in some sections).  They drive VERY aggressively and use their horns as much as their turn signals and perhaps more often than their brakes.  Their crosswalks are obviously just suggestions and their pedestrians are like matadors.  In fact, sitting at a traffic light and watching a gaggle of pedestrians try to cross the busy street was like watching a live action version of Frogger.
After at least an hour in traffic, during which time we passed some fantastic architecture and at least one Burger King, we arrived at the hotel.  Before the taxi (or Taksi as they call them) could drive up to the hotel we had to pass through a security checkpoint at the end of the driveway.  There one guard opened the trunk while another walked around holding a mirror on a pole so that he could see underneath the van.  The check was purely cursory, unfortunately.  Mark and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes – anybody wanting to attack the hotel wouldn’t exactly have to be Jim Phelps to get past this group.  Once at the front door to the hotel we unloaded and faced yet another "security" measure as we had to go thru an airport style metal detector and x-ray machine in order to enter the lobby.  Never mind that there were at least two other doors into the place with no such checks.
The place is nice, though, with the kind of elegance you expect from a Hilton.  Checking in we inquire about Internet access in the rooms – we are geeks after all.  "Yes, we have wireless" they say.  That should have been our first warning.  Getting into our rooms we find them charming…and the wireless non-existant.  It turns out that some of the rooms have wireless, other rooms…not so much.  So Jim and I each have to switch to rooms closer to the elevators (where the access points apparently are) in order to get acceptable, but still fairly slow, Internet access.
One other comment about the hotel…in the evening there is only one restaurant open in the hotel – the 14th floor bar/lounge which includes a large patio with a spectacular view of the city.  Unfortunately you have no view of anything on the patio — it’s kept extremely dark.  I ordered a cheeseburger and a flashlight, but settled for a passable fettucine with chicken and pesto.  Mark ordered Medallions of Beef and when it came had to use the screen from his mobile phone to see what he was eating.  It was actually medallion (singular) of beef and aside from being a little heavy on the blue cheese he said it was acceptable.  Unfortunately we had 2 more nights in Istanbul and we had already exhausted our good dining options.
…more on Istanbul to come soon.
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