Archive for December, 2007

Power Company Woes

Everytime Heather and I head out of town for a weekend we joke that we’re going to come home to a house with no power. The reason we have this legitimate fear is that in the 6+ months we’ve lived here we have never ever received a power bill. Now some of this is expected. We live in a brand new housing complex and, as you all should know by now, India isn’t real quick on setting up infrastructure. We even got a memo ~2.5 months back saying that “bills are coming soon.” We never got a bill.

So we went to Ireland and Sweden and when we opened the door at 3:00 AM after our flight home … no power. Breaker board: no power. Outside main breaker box: no power. Crap.

I woke up the maintenance guy for the complex (it’s a 24/7 operation, he should have been awake) and told him to come out. I walked back outside and my driver was futzing around with switches. I pointed out that the board was completely dead, they had killed the power. I looked at my neighbors house since they moved out a few months back and showed my driver that there’s was dead too.

In India they have these gigantic fuses for each of the 3 phases (wires) coming into the house. I noticed that on top of the power setup for my neighbors their 3 fuses were sitting there. My driver noticed that my 3 fuses were missing. Sure enough, on top of my power box there they were: my 3 fuses. So we popped them back in and we have power again! I called the maintenance guy (I swear he was asleep already) and told him I fixed it, don’t come. I’m such a nice guy.

I checked the mail today. We finally got a bill. It’s dated Dec 19 and due on Jan 8. My computer tells me that the power has been out since Dec 19. They turned off my power on the day they gave me the bill. WTF? Yeah. I can’t wait to have this phone call.

1 comment December 30th, 2007

Sweden and Ireland, Flying a lot

Is anyone else wondering where all the wacky of this blog went? I must admit this place used to be somewhat humorous but now its just annoying blabber and pictures. Right? Some boring blabber from our 2 weeks in Sweden and Ireland are all in the photo slideshow for this trip. There are a record setting 27 pictures in there.

When we pulled into the Kiruna, Sweden airport we deplaned using stairs and walked across a huge sheet of ice into the airport. This place is cold. When you get inside all of the hotels and resorts are holding signs to pick up their guests. A woman was holding a sign with “Van der Zandt” on it. Heather and I mumbled to each other “I wonder if that’s us” and chuckled that it couldn’t be. Heather made me ask anyway. I asked what hotel she was from. She mumbled something that didn’t sound like our hotel and so I walked away. After we got our bags, two gigantic 60lb each bags (my status with the airlines makes it so I don’t have to pay extra for these), we discovered that our ride to the airport wasn’t there. It’s ~3:00 in the afternoon, cold and dark and we have no ride ~100 miles inside the arctic circle. Heather went and asked miss “Van der Zandt” for more info and discovered that they had just mis-interpreted the spelling of our name. Further, she’s the shuttle for two hotels and only bothered to tell me the name of the “other” hotel.

That night, after arriving in Kiruna, we took a snowmobiling trip with the intent of seeing the northern lights. Heather had booked this trip through the hotel before we even left India and when we showed up things went pretty smoothly. ~30 minutes prior to our scheduled departure for the trip we went down to the “lobby” and picked up some cold weather clothes. These were, thankfully, not your average snowboarding outfits. The jackets were these huge down jackets that weighed about as much as a loaded backpack. The pants were nothing to shrug off and were also thick and filled with feathers. These things keep you warm. Lacing up our boots a truck pulls up in the driveway and in walks a young guy. I asked him if he was taking us snowmobiling and he said yes. So we followed him outside and hopped in the truck. Exchanging smalltalk along the way we learned that his name was Eric and that Heather and I were the only two people brave (dumb) enough to be doing this on this particular evening. I also learned that the white stuff falling on the truck was indeed snow falling from the sky, not snow blowing from the side of the road. Hmm. If you can’t see the sky you can’t see the northern lights. Do we get a refund? We pull into the parking lot of some cafe / tourist souvenir shop and park next to 3 snowmobiles that are just sitting there. We put on our special “helmets” (by helmet I mean really cool hat, not a helmet to protect your head in the event of an impact with something hard). Eric asks if I’ve ever driven a snowmobile before. I tell him that I have, I’d been out a time or two with my Uncle Ray a bunch of years ago. He says “ok, let’s go.” So we jump on the machine and take off.

To make sure you don’t think I’m leaving out important details I’m going to highlight the things that, were we in California, just wouldn’t happen:

- I have no idea what the name of the company that Eric works for is
- We did not have the option of wearing helmets
- We did not sign any waivers
- There was no credit card deposit
- There was no lecture on damaging the machine and having to pay for it

This didn’t really bother me all that much but when you think about all of the bureaucracy and all of the lawyers in, especially, California this just sounds odd.

So we snowmobiled along. We rode across a frozen lake after Eric parks us and says “stay here, I’m going to go check out the ice first.” He forgot the instructions for if the ice breaks and he falls in and we can’t rescue him.

We pulled into our little camp site where a teepee had been setup for these tours. Unfortunately the heavy winds had nearly blown the thing over. All of the supports had spread out from the sides and the teepee was around 4′ tall instead of 8′. So Eric and I climbed inside the teepee and started trying to fix it up. We got it to stand around 5′ tall and gave up. He pulled out a hatchet and made some kindling out of wood already in the teepee and started a fire inside the teepee. Yep, we burned wood inside of an enclosure that had a marginal at best exhaust mechanism. After around 10 minutes we evacuated the teepee and stood outside. I setup my tripod and took pictures of the northern light-less sky. In the end we had a fantastic evening and if you are up there and have a chance to do this sort of trip I recommend it.

Part of the reason we took this vacation was to accrue some frequent flier miles. Before leaving Bangalore I had ~90,000 miles accrued this year and if I could get to 100,000 I would reach the next level of status with United. With some careful math we calculated that I’d hit 100,300 miles when we landed back in Bangalore.

As it turns out SAS isn’t super friendly to its star alliance partners: If you fly on the cheap fares you only get 25% of the miles you’re supposed to get and worst of all, all intra-Sweden flight is ineligible for accrual because of some Swedish law. We of course didn’t know any of this until after we flew. So I did not fly 100,000 miles this year. I flew 98,472 miles over the course of 28 flight segments during the past 12 months.

UPDATE: After writing to united (a phone call didn’t work) and explaining my situation united gave me the 1K status I was after. SWEEEET!

Slightly more wacky than this was when we were at our hotel in Kiruna and I, preparing for a shower, was walking around nekked. The sharp-witted guy at the front desk (this is a really tiny hotel) told the maid we had checked out and to go clean our room (there isn’t daily cleaning service here). Yeah that was scary. Perhaps slightly more wacky than this was that on the same trip in the same country but at a different hotel Heather was walking around in nothing more than a towel when the maid busted open the door! What the crap! Leave us a-lone!

In the end we had an absolutely fantastic trip. I wasn’t terribly impressed by Sweden and I especially wasn’t impressed with the inflation there and the fact that somehow the exchange rate is completely broken. In every country I’ve ever been to a McDonald’s hamburger costs roughly 1 US dollar. In Sweden it costs, I kid you not, 10 US dollars (if you’re wondering, we did not eat at McDonald’s). It costs 10x what it should cost! We ate food at a food court in Stockholm and paid 30 US dollars for the two of us to eat and have a small soda each. 30 bucks for mall food! I won’t tell you what our nice dinner cost.

Ireland was, however, impressive. Had we traveled during a different time of the year I may not have been as happy with it. Going around Christmas time was key to there not being a ton of tourists and us being able to just drive around and do what we wanted to do. The Dollar -> Euro exchange rate has been better in the recent past but still goods and services were appropriately priced, unlike Sweden. The natural beauty of Ireland is apparent, as it is with every country I’ve ever been to, but the lack of people and the overall relaxing theme of our trip made it especially great.

I’d return to Ireland. I’d probably skip Sweden given an opportunity to pay for my own vacation there again.

1 comment December 29th, 2007

Merry Christmas from Abroad

Swan in Ireland Merry Christmas to you all. Heather and I wanted to take a little bit of time to say hello and merry christmas from ~6,000 miles away. We’re spending our christmas in Ireland. So it’s not that we’re showing you our tail feathers for Christmas, it’s just that flying from India to Europe is a whole lot easier than flying to California.

I figure we should give a little proof of life to you all. Here it is:

Heather and Bob go ahhh

How do you like those awesome “helmets” we’re wearing? That picture was taken in Kiruna, Sweden which, in case you were wondering, is by far the northern most place on earth I’ve ever been. It was not warm.

Right now we’re hanging out in Limerick, Ireland. It’s a little cold out and foggy at night but during the day the tourists are all elsewhere and we’re privileged to views like this, almost entirely to ourselves:

Cliffs of Moher

We’re looking forward to June when we move back to the US and we’re already looking forward to next Christmas when we’ll get to see all of our friends and family during this special time of year.

Merry Christmas, with lots of love, from Heather and Bob.

1 comment December 25th, 2007

To the US and back

Las Vegas View Just a few days ago we landed in bangalore, 2 suitcases lighter than when we left SFO, but back in Bangalore in one piece. We were visiting in the US for 2 days longer than 2 weeks and managed to keep ourselves nice and busy. We attended 3 thanksgiving celebrations: one with family, one with friends and another with family. We ate a bunch of pizza (I really wanted pizza), I drove my car (oh, the car, I love the car), we went to Las Vegas, I went gokarting and we even saw a handful of our friends.

Our thanksgiving trips were more or less uneventful. No turkeys exploded. It didn’t snow 5′. It was just 3 days in a row of good company and good eating.

Stella The Sunday after thanksgiving we hung out with our friends Paul and Pam and their two kids Trevor and Stella. Besides hanging out and catching up the mission for this visit was capturing a photo for their christmas card this year. Unfortunately I didn’t do very well scoring a photo with the two kids in it for use in the card, but I did score this one of Stella. I rank it near the top of the ~100,000 photos I’ve taken during my lifetime.

Our Vegas trip had a few blog-worthy events. We ate dinner at this place called Delmonico Steakhouse, a restaurant run by Emeril (yes, bam! Emeril). It was the most amount of money I’ve ever spent on food. Think a month of food for a family of 3. Livin’ the life baby. But the food was good. The night before we went and saw Penn and Teller. We discovered Penn and Teller while living in Ukraine; we found their Showtime show on my favorite TV website and started watching. Visiting Vegas we took up the opportunity to catch the live version.

The blog-worthy portion of Penn and Teller comes during one of the early acts when the comedic duo decide they need a volunteer from the audience. I’ll write a sentence here that has little bearing to the overall story to give you a chance to guess where I’m leading. Did you get it? Got it? You’re right: Heather was selected as the volunteer. I tried typing up the story of what happened but it’s just not nearly as funny as if I simply tell you about it the next time I see you. So ask.

On our final weekend of the trip we headed down to Portola Valley for my cousin Jon’s wedding. Thankfully not being on photo detail I just hung out and chatted with family. I took a few pictures of folks after the ceremony but otherwise didn’t take any pictures, mostly on purpose. Here are some photos that I chose to upload.

After all of that we went back to SFO, 5 suit cases in hand, and reluctantly boarded the airplane destined for Frankfurt. We flew business class, not because Cisco cares about its employees and pays to fly them business class, but because I dumped a bunch of frequent flyer miles and upgraded us. Business class on long, international flights is worth every penny. We got to Frankfurt and hung out in the lounge to score some free food before heading down to the gate for Bangalore. You don’t actually need to know your gate number to find your flight, just walk through Frankfurt until you find a gate that is filled with people that have mustaches. That’s your flight.

1 comment December 8th, 2007


December 2007
« Nov   Jan »

Posts by Month

Posts by Category