How Rotana made our blacklist

Disturbing stay

Disturbing stay

I’m 36 weeks pregnant so this two-night stay at The Cove Rotana in Ras Al Khaimah on their Ramadan special rates was booked to be our last dedicated weekend together as a couple. We were very excited.

After a two-hour drive from Dubai (in hectic Thursday afternoon pre-Iftar traffic) we arrived at the Cove at almost 6pm and proceeded to check in. I went to the bathroom while my husband started. I arrived back and asked if we’d been given the complimentary upgrade as per our reservation. She knew nothing about it and said we’d been given a classic room. I said we’d paid for a premium room but our rate included an upgrade from that and showed her our printed booking information.

She called reservations to check our booking (despite us having all details on our printout that we put in front of her) and many minutes later she said she’d give us a villa. We thanked her.

She asked if we needed non-smoking, I said we did, as that was what was booked. She said she didn’t have any but said she’d find something.

At that point, a colleague came up to her and said she needed her. She went with her associate and a male colleague, Bhakta, took over. He asked questions we had already answered. We said it was poor customer service for the woman to abandon us just as we are finishing, and said that she should see it through. She returned, but took our ID to scan and left him to it. He just stood there.

She finally returned and proceeded to finalize our check-in. After the problem with the complimentary upgrade not being recognised I went through the list of other items that were supposed to be included in the rate. She acted very put out and said of course we had a 30% discount on f&b and of course we had free internet, she would give us a code.

Free internet included, but not without a fight

Free internet included, but not without a fight

Still searching for a villa, she said she’d give us a premium villa. We thanked her.
Finally, Bhakta, pointed at something over her shoulder and told her to “just give them that one”. They gave us our key, told us the pool was closed for renovation, as was the main restaurant, but we could swim at the pool bar if we wanted, and dine at the cafe. At this point we barely even registered. She had neglected to give us our internet code.

We loaded ourselves into the golf cart and were driven down to the villa they’d given us. I immediately noticed it was a smoking room. My husband wondered if maybe it was just stuffy, when I pointed at the ashtray on the table. I also noticed that this premium villa had no soft furnishings, was all echoes and plaster, and had pictures that weren’t straight.

My husband called reception and asked them to fix it. They asked us to wait as they were serving others and he said that we would like this resolved now as we had already spent a long time at reception ourselves, were hungry and now just wanted to be in our room. He waited on the line to be allocated a new room and he asked them to said send a driver with the new room key to meet us where we were, to save me another bumpy ride back up the hill to reception and back.

After waiting in the smoky room for 20 minutes for our new key to be delivered, I was feeling sick from the stench. My husband had tried to straighten the picture but it stubbornly remained askew. We asked the driver to call and find out what the delay was. He could not reach reception. No one would answer. We took the golfcart ride back up to the hotel lobby and I stormed in demanding to know where our room key was.

Bhakta, the one who had said “just give them that one” (the smoking room) refused to serve us and told us to get to the back of the queue. I was not happy and did not move.

This is when the star of this tale, Iyad the manager made his grand entrance and told us to sit down. I said I didn’t want to sit here, I’d been trying to check in for an hour and I wanted to lie down in our room. He said he couldn’t help us if we didn’t sit. I said I didn’t want his help, I just wanted to know the room number from the desk who already had our details, so we could meet the driver who had taken our key there.

Iyad, in his creative genius, said his only option was to cancel our reservation and walked off. This is how he chose to deal with a tired, upset, hungry and obviously 8 months pregnant couple who had driven two hours to get there; who had spent another hour trying to sort out a reservation that had been stuffed up twice already; and who had been shuttled up and down the hill in a golfcart to a smoking room that had been allocated to them even though they’d been told they were being given a non-smoking room. The man is not a diplomat. Let’s say it did not smooth the situation.

I stormed after him, shouting that he would do no such thing, that he would honour our transaction and provide the service we had paid for.

He said he couldn’t while I was upset. I urged him to just give us our room number if he was concerned that I was upset. He said he couldn’t if he didn’t know what it was. I said that is why I wanted the front desk to deal with it, as they had all our details, to save us wasting further time recounting them.

He repeated that all he could do was cancel our room and said we hadn’t even given him our name. I asked why he had not asked for our information instead of threatening to kick us out. I gave him the reservation details I’d had in my hand and been waving at him the entire time, that he’d never taken from me and demanded he give us the number of our room.

He typed away and perceptively informed us that we’d already been given a new room and the key had already been sent. Our patience had been completely sapped. I repeated that all we wanted was the number of this room so we could go there.

He said “this room is also a smoking room, is that ok?” I said “no, of course it’s not ok!” We reserved a non-smoking room, and that is what we want to be provided.

He reverted to his default position, “all I can do is cancel your reservation” with the added flourish of, “you can call the police if you’re not happy”

I told him that is not all he could do, he could provide the service we had paid for and told him to find us a room.

He typed some more and said he had nothing at that level, and I said he’d have to give us a room at a different level then. He said it would take a further one to two hours so he would give us a standard room to wait in in the mean time. I asked if there was any food in the room. He said there was standard mini bar, chips and chocolate, and I said we would wait in the cafe.

He looked at me and sneered and with another textbook line of customer service gold he said, “All this because we gave you a smoking room? I’ve been nothing but polite and all you can do is shout”.

I said no, that is not all. We had arrived and our reservation was not recorded correctly. We had patiently explained the differences to the check in desk who had spent some time confirming these on the phone to Rotana’s central reservations department and were finally making progress when after about 15 minutes the woman we’d been dealing with abandoned our check in and handed over to a colleague who started asking us basic questions all over again. Then we’d been given two rooms that did not satisfy the reservation criteria, we’d been driven all around the property and left waiting when no one answered our calls, and then made to explain the situation again to someone who, rather than help, said the only option was a cancellation, implying we should turn around and drive home for another two hours. Finally, I said, “your attitude is anything but polite, it is rude, abrasive, unhelpful and after this last question, downright cheeky. Is there any wonder we are irate?”

We waited in their cafe and my husband received a call around 45 minutes later saying our room was available. When he went to reception Iyad regaled him with a bizarre lecture on how we cannot request a room that is non-smoking, because they have no control on what guests do in the room. He said “requesting a non-smoking room is just a wish, like wishing for a two-bedroom villa instead of a single”. Why on earth do Rotana offer the option on their reservation website? Why on earth do check in staff confirm the request? Another gem from the mouth of Iyad.

All sun and little terrace

All sun and little terrace

We finally arrived in the room and there was no food in the mini bar as he’d promised. We ordered room service. We had still not been given an internet code so ordered this too. We were told there was no internet in the room. They finally offered a LAN cable however. (It’s 2014 and you offer a rate that includes ‘free internet’, how can you not offer wifi?). The room was as beige as could be. Again, all hard surfaces, minimal comfort or decor. There were two white plastic chairs on the sun terrace which we’d discover in the morning was all sun, very little terrace.

Our food arrived, sans internet code. The food was fine. You can’t imagine they’d do much wrong with fish and chips and a chicken burger.

Another driver came with an internet code, and the login details said there was a 120aed charge. We said we could not agree to the charge, that he should speak to reception and fix it. The driver took the code away and said he could not leave it with us. Again we had to argue with three people that the rate included free internet and we finally got a code delivered.

Chamber of echoes

Chamber of echoes

We had tried to watch a film on television but the speakers on the TV were blown, so even at full volume Matt Damon was incomprehensible. I went upstairs to see if the bedroom TV was any better. It was.

At 9:30pm, the doorbell rang again. Turndown service. I asked my husband to accept the chocolates and let them go. There were no chocolates. They only turned the bed down and replaced towels. We’d not used towels and I’d managed to lift the corner of the duvet myself so their extravagant offer at that time of night was completely redundant.

We watched some television and went to sleep. I woke at 2:30am with the horrific combination of sore dry eyes and throat from the blustery air conditioning, but still sweaty because it wasn’t actually cooling the room.

I went downstairs to sleep on the sofa. My husband emerged and shouted off the balcony “everything’s better at home!” and we agreed we’d leave first thing in the morning, and not stay the extra day and night. We discussed the fact that we would forfeit our second night, but as my husband put it, that would be money well spent to get out of there.

The five-minute flood

The five-minute flood

Ingenious double-ended shower head

Ingenious double-ended shower head

Showering was interesting, more water came out the base of the shower head than the top, and the bathroom immediately flooded because the shower drain was blocked. By the time both of us had had 5 minute rinses, even the external drain in the bathroom was struggling.

When we were ready to leave we ordered a buggy to take us up the hill. It didn’t arrive and we had to reorder it 30 minutes later. We had the delight of dealing with Bhakta to checkout but had already decided that other than correcting any billing issues, we would not discuss any issues. Of course, we again had to get the internet charge removed because they’d added that to the bill. Bhakta then asked us to wait a few minutes while he checked if he could refund us the second night’s accommodation. We thanked him.

As we were waiting, a manager approached us, asking if he could help. I said last night his assistance would’ve been greatly appreciated but at this stage it was not worth our time to explain the extent of our experiences. We said Bhakta was in the process if trying to obtain a refund for us on our second night, so if he could secure that we would be grateful. He did immediately and I think our stay would’ve been entirely different had he been on duty when we checked in, rather than when we checked out.

Address to Impress

One of the most confronting things about moving to Dubai – and there was stiff competition – was the lack of a proper postal addressing system.

“Wah wah!” I hear those back home mocking me, but I challenge you to question if you don’t take for granted how easy it easy to write your address on a form and know it will ensure items large and small arrive at your door without fail. We can’t fill out a form like that. We don’t have street names, street numbers or post codes. There is no residential ‘address’ system as such in the UAE.

If you order takeaway, you give your building name and apartment number and general vicinity – then you describe your location using a prominent landmark or two, “opposite HSBC” or “after the butterfly roundabout”. But can you imagine trying to squeeze this information into the change of address form from your bank back home?

Lucky people just have mail delivered to their company’s post office box. Others purchase a mail box and drive to the opposite end of the city whenever they remember to check it.

But change is in the offing. Late last year, I was elated to hear that Emirates Post was commencing residential postal delivery in the UAE,  but the geek in me (well, perhaps the control freak in me) was doubly excited to read that Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipal Affairs had started implementing a comprehensive new addressing system across the emirate.

They’ve already setup a database to log, code and file names for geographic locations. Addresses will include a building number, unique street name, city name, the emirate and postcode. (A postcode!!!) They say this database will be used as an official reference for the street names. (An official reference!!!)

The Municipality project will create around 12,000 new street names and at least 20,000 street signs over the next two years and a half years.

Just to prove the UAE capital is bringing in a system just like any other, they say streets will be named after prominent people in the UAE, historical people from the Islamic religion and from other countries. I wonder if there will be any embarrassing oversights or strange inclusions like we see the world over?

Glad I’m not a comedian’s wife

As funny as my fiance is, I’m really glad I’m not marrying a comic because their wives cop it, big time.

We know the drill all too well here in Dubai. Unfortunately, many of the stand-up routines we see on tour here in the Middle East rely on old (or let’s be generous and say, timeless) material. Or they focus on material that is personal rather than sociopolitical because they don’t know where the line is here. For whatever reason, too often the comic’s wife or partner bears the brunt of a gag. But I’ve never heard a spouse cop so much abuse as Tom Stade’s wife at last night’s [Aussie beer-branded] Laughter Factory.

It’s mind-numbingly normal here to hear the one about about the wife’s nagging or her waning sexual interest (think about cause and effect here, funny men). Last night however, we heard about the brunt Stade’s long-suffering wife of 17 years is forced to bear: anal rape, in graphic fluid detail.

Don’t worry, Mrs Stade (Trudy, according to Wikipedia) loves it, behind her crying, he says. Hang on, that’s really not funny.

The Edinburgh-resident Canadian’s jaw-aching humour – and Trudy’s indignity – didn’t stop there. I had been wishing the ten-minute setup about his Groupon addiction would just end, but little did I know it would finally have a donkey of a punchline. Not even having forced himself into Trudy’s rectum (well, he slipped in there by accident, but stayed on purpose) could stop him extracting himself from her to retrieve his phone when the Groupon app announced a new sale.

I walked out of his routine at this point, through a packed house at the Grand Millennium Tecom, because I didn’t have the stomach for Trudy’s real or fictitious degradation being made a mockery like that. It was sick-making. Especially with all the woman-hating going on in Australia over the past week, I’m over the one about misogyny-as-humour.

Worryingly, his rape jokes obviously got some women going. Laughter Factory MC Gail Clough (who’d presumably been watching their shows all week) was so enamoured of Stade’s humour she introduced him as her favourite; a slap in the face for the rest of the line-up, which was hardly devoid of talent. Both incredibly funny and musically gifted to boot.

Charlie Baker seems to have missed his calling as a jazz singer. Some of the notes he was belting out (as a Cornish Frank Sinatra) stopped me breathing. I’d have to say he was my favourite, if only because it’s the first time I’ve snort-laughed at the Laughter Factory (did you know Devonshire women lactate clotted cream?).

Jim Tavare accompanied his dry wit with comedic skills on woodwind and strings. His rendition of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ on the cello was unique. Tavare might have been trying to warn us about his fellow comedian’s sexual “humour” but we all thought he was being self-deprecating at the time and laughed along: some comedians are brought on to talk about sex to get you moist, he said, I’m brought on to dry you up.

I only hope Trudy avails herself of some moistening. Or listens closely to Tavare’s routine before she reaches her 18th anniversary of this, so she can hear that the Bridal March is only the Death March played backwards.

Lingfield Melts

“Mad March” splashed across Monday’s Daily Mail as “Britain was plunged into the worst spring freeze in more than 25 years” but the sun came out the following day and as the town of Lingfield melted, I took my first ever walk in the snow, filming as I went, without a tripod unfortunately.

The snow came tumbling down in the county of Surrey on what was labelled the coldest day in March since 1986. Reported temperatures dropped as low as minus-12 celsius, but here in Lingfield, I personally saw the gauge reading a relatively balmy -3.

It was the region’s first March snow in seven years and while unofficial reports put it at 12cm, the Met Office measured 7cm at nearby Charlwood.

Only 24 miles south of London, as well as being a dormitory suburb for London commuters, it’s home to a good number of residential facilities for the elderly and, of course, Lingfield Park Racecourse.

While racing officials at Cheltenham were bravely peeling off their thermal covers this week to say their show would definitely go on, it was just as uncertain if Lingfield Park will be able to host their scheduled meet this Friday.

Dubai 2.0

Seeing Dubai through a visitor’s eyes is a rejuvenating process

I’ve been entertaining my Dad in Dubai for the past ten days and it’s been surprisingly wonderful. Whether it’s that we’ve both mellowed enough to enjoy a more extended dose of each other’s company, or whether it’s having T around as the defuser, or much needed pressure valve, I don’t know. All of the above?

I was explaining this to my colleague, Greg, and he said ‘isn’t it wonderful having guests and showing them around and rediscovering all the things you love about the place!’. It hit me that it was exactly what had been happening. Everywhere I’d been going, I was thinking to myself, ‘wow, isn’t this a wonderful place’. I was falling in love with Dubai all over again.

The past year has been levelling. A lot of old friends moved away and the transient nature of this expat hub was drawn into all too sharp a focus for us. I’ve been finding it too easy to fixate on this young city’s room for process improvement and have let myself lose sight of the rich and wonderful parts of living here. Having Dad’s fresh eyes has helped me see through the crap. Not only his fresh eyes, but he managed to bring another set of fresh eyes into my life – kind of. Let’s just say, last week I met a friend he’s known since studying Mandarin with her in Sydney a decade ago, she’s just moved here on her own journey making New Memories and I really look forward to hearing about how she finds her feet and sharing her discoveries.

I’m right in the middle of my Dubai renaissance and I’m going to start talking it up, and shift the balance of this blog to ‘travels’ from ‘travails’. Perhaps you might start seeing a hint of the effervescence of fellow Dubai blogger Britney of Arabia and just maybe on my way, I can even convince the doyenne of all things Shamelessly Salacious to fall in love with Dubai again with me.

A Big Day Out in London

Seeing as London is too chilly for a stroll right now, here’s my last visit, revisited…

10:20 Pulled into London Paddington

10:25 Purchased a Nero’s Americano. Got my coins confused. Told the edgy server he needed to order the chai latte for himself next time.

10:35 Asked man on tube to look out for his elbows with my coffee. His reaction implied I was trying to communicate to him in Klingon.

IMG_2424

10:45 Alighted at Oxford Circus

10:47 Man asked where I got my Nero’s coffee (???)

10:53 Gave a blind fiddler a quid. His box was empty. Has he been robbed? Is it clever marketing? Had he just started for the day?

11:10 Reached Primark Oxford St

11:45 Joined queue for change rooms in Primark
Numero Uno. That's just how I roll.

Numero Uno. That’s just how I roll.

11:55 Entered changeroom

12:10 Arrived at checkout. Spoke to Jujar about life in Dubai. We both agreed that my circumstances were infinitely better than his own experience of Dubai through no fault of either of us.

12:25 Coffee at Pain Quotidien to regroup (repack Primark loot) and plan attack

12:35 Set off for Macculloch & Wallis haberdashery

12:39 Saw quartet of LA porn star types soaking up British culture: looking for an Italian restaurant each carrying nothing but an enormous Victoria’s Secret bag.

IMG_242612:45 At Macculloch & Wallis can’t work out Simplicity patterns. Irony? Bought New Look. Irish cashier admired the pattern for sundresses. Talked about dress code in Dubai. She’s dressed head-to-toe in black and tartan but says not being able to bare her shoulders is the reason she wouldn’t live in the UAE.

13:43 Leaving John Lewis with nothing. Panic. Feet hurting big time. Did the embarrassing Dubai thing of waiting for the doors to open for me. With someone behind me and all!

13:50 Detour via Muji. Talked about Dubai with cashier. Yay for the soon-to-be-opening Dubai Mall store I tells her!

14:08 HMV. Sold out of both titles Robert had asked for “and we won’t be replenishing them”. Good for the creditors, I guess.

IMG_2427

14:15 Cloth house. Meh.

14:25 Kleins… Meh.

14:35 Liberty. Meh…

14:47 Feet hurting too much now to focus on anything else. Ow!

14:50 The Air St Cobbler’s insoles smack me in the face. He even cut the spongiest ones to my size for me. Yay! Cost me a fiver which is a ripoff I’m sure but there’s no way I could hide my desperation or relief.

IMG_2428

My saviour.

15:10 Waterstones. Collected pre-ordered books. Done.

15:20 Tescos chicken edamame salad eaten at a bus stop. Classy. 260cal

My saviour in form of machine

My saviour in form of machine

15:25 Faffing around looking for a meeting spot with John.

15:30 Aargh. There were onions in the salad!

15:35 Saved by the Extra dispensed by handy toilet vending machine

15:40 Subject arrives for interview.

18:00 I’m “tenacious”, he says. Wine has stopped flowing, the end must be imminent.

19:00 Arrived Paddington.

19:30 Guzzled a sandwich on the train…

20:00 Home. I will sleep well tonight.

My retail trek through London

My retail trek through London

Come Argue With Me!

I applied for Come Dine With Me Dubai this week. Rima didn’t know I had and suggested it separately on her Wall (great minds?). Her friend said that the number of crackpots in Dubai could fill a whole series, not just a couple of shows. Rima said she literally LOLed when I confirmed that I’d “talked up my difficult nature” in my application. Continue reading

Missing Mary’s Laksa

Laksa is my favourite meal in the whole world and Mary’s laksa is my favourite variety. Two types of noodles (rice and egg). A light broth that’s not as heavy on the coconut or chilli as it is on the savoury tang.

But it did not start with Mary, no no no! I’ve been a devoted fan of this tangy, spicy soup for years. Continue reading

The Data Debate (OR ♫ You say po-data and I say po-data ♬)

Dah-ta, day-ta or datta? As a word-loving Antipodean who doesn’t mind a stoush with many similarly-natured British friends I have gotten myself into this argument more times than any other. (A close second is the Great Scone Debate which has, on occasion turned into a bun fight. Sorry.)

The Data Debate came up most recently at a barbecue. We had previously been politely discussing ways of saying ‘oral’ versus ‘aural’. (For what it’s worth, oral as in ‘coral’ and aural as in ‘choral’ is where I stand – and interestingly, this one divided the Brits too).

Then I was reminded of it again yesterday Continue reading

From Chocolate Bread to Chocolate Bread Pudding

I’ve not indulged in chocolate much over the past few years, nor had much of a sweet tooth in general, but I’m gradually developing a taste for sugar. When I saw this amazing chocolate bread with chocolate chips in Waitrose this morning I knew I needed to taste it. The chocolate chips are dark and rich, but the bread is not too sweet, a very adult alternative to cake. Pretty soon after it landed in the kitchen I decided I needed to make my very first bread and butter pudding.

The Inspiration: Waitrose Chocolate Bread

A Google search for chocolate bread pudding, landed me with nothing involving ‘chocolate bread'; just bread with chocolate added, so I adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart, adding my favourite flavour du jour, coconut. I think it tastes divine. Gooey, chewy and crunchy all in one mouthful. But don’t take my word on it alone. I sent a dish off with some friends tonight, so await their verdict on this creation too!

Chocolate Bread and Coconut Pudding

1 tablespoon butter, plus more for baking dish
6 slices (roughly equal to 230 grams of) chocolate bread
3 tablespoons desiccated coconut
2 cups milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (170, if fan-forced). Lightly grease a 30x20cm (or 23cm square) baking dish; set aside. Toast bread in the oven (so choc chips don’t get stuck in the toaster!)
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine milk and butter; place over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter has melted.
  3. Tear bread into 4-5 pieces per slice; spread evenly in baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla. Whisk in warm milk mixture until combined. Pour over bread.
  4. Bake about 25 minutes until pudding has puffed up and has set. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
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