30 September 2007

A last look at Kiev

On my last day in Kiev I had a little time to do some further exploring and shopping. A chance turn off a road that we had walked a few times before took us into a park that covers the slopes of the steep hill that leads up from the riverside to the top of the town. The park is spacious and has lots of interesting features, such as avenues of trees, statues, pathways, flowerbeds, views over the river, places to sit and a funicular railway.

After leaving the park, we took some random turns to walk down roads that looked interesting, including the one pictured here. This is a fairly typical view of Kiev with baroque architecture and trees which combine to make the place both attractive and peaceful.

With elections on the Sunday, there were signs of campaigning wherever we went, and that meant lots of flags.

27 September 2007

Kiev is very pretty

Work finished promptly today so we walked back to the hotel, a walk of about 5km or 7km if you follow our route! This gave us the opportunity to see a lot more of the city, a lot of which looks like the photograph above.

The center of the city is quite large and there are decorative and impressive buildings in all directions. There are a number of squares, fountains and statues. Most of the squares are currently occupied by political campaigners ahead of the elections this weekend (30 September). This campaigning brings a host of flags and small tents to the squares and brings democracy to the heart of the city.

The main street in Kiev is wide and busy. The pavements have been designed for promenading and have lots of places to sit and lots of things to look at while seated. This is clearly a popular pastime with the locals as most of the benches were occupied by people resting or reading.

And every now and then you find a building as grand as this one.

26 September 2007


One of the good things I like about travel is that you learn about other cultures, which helps you to understand different perspectives that different people have. The lesson that I learned today was about drinking with meals. In the UK I am used to drinking a bottle of wine with my evening meal or a few beers with a curry etc., but today was the first time that I have had a bottle of vodka with my meal. I guess that's the sort of thing that happens when you are in Ukraine and are with a few Russians. The food was good, by the way!

25 September 2007

Kiev in the rain

My short trip to Kiev got off to a wet start but I still managed to walk around the city center for about an hour before it got dark and hunger forced me back to the hotel.

First impressions are good. There are many beautiful baroque buildings to remind you of places like Prague and Riga but there is a little extra too with the domes on the orthodox churches, such as the one in this photograph.

There is much evidence of wide-scale renovation so the city center is likely to look even better soon. All the building that I could see under construction (including the one in my Facebook album) are in the baroque style so the character of the city should remain. And before you moan about mock-Baroque all I can say is that I have seen large scale building in the old style in Gdansk and it works!

The only negative so far is that the overground public transport (i.e. trams and buses) seems to be a little thin on the ground.

I am here until Friday morning so hopefully I will get the opportunity to explore the city a little more.

24 September 2007

A new school year starts; will things get any better?

The start of each school term means a meeting between the Local Authority and Chairs of Governors. This is billed as a "Governors' Partnership Meeting" but really it is about two hours of Local Authority officers telling school governors what to do. I always go with a sense of optimism and always leave despairing at how clueless most people involved in Education are. These are the notes I made during the meeting:
  • The presentation on healthy school food was full of information that we did not need to know (e.g. how the report was compiled) and ended with conclusions that were not supported by the preceding data.
  • If you want to narrow the achievement gap then you need to widen the resourcing gap.
  • Target setting is still the centre of all that is happening in schools, despite it being fundamentally flawed (see previous references to Lean Thinking etc.), and there was a lot of talk about outcomes but none about inputs (each child is different) or resources. Pointless.
  • The questionnaire on the vision for schools had the views of parents as the very last question when it should have been the first.
  • The Local Authority has a Victorian view of what a school is and does not realise that the world has changed and is changing still. Schools now provide a wide range of "services" to the whole community and are part of a wider ecosystem of communities and service providers, which requires a radical rethink on what schools do, how this is managed and what resources (e.g. buildings) they need to do this.

19 September 2007


The day's "contingency" on the North Africa trip worked well as my colleague and I managed to tie up the loose ends from the previous six days and also had plenty of time to explore Casablanca.

We spent most of the morning exploring the main mosque and a large part of the rest of the day walking around the old town (Medina) which is a warren of narrow streets full of shops that are a delight to browse through. We looked closely at shoes, leather jackets, electrical goods and jewellery. The atmosphere was lively but comfortable. There were fewer beggars than in London and they just sat at the side with their hands out. The biggest danger came from the motorcyclists who use the roads there even though they are mostly about 2m wide and full of people.

After the walk we explored the hotel that we had been staying in for the last three days and found a small balcony on the top (ninth) floor which was good for views but not so good for vertigo! This photograph was taken there and shows the roofscape of the new town looking towards the mosque, from this you get a good idea of just how big the mosque is. If you look closely you can also see that there are hundreds of satellite dishes with every roof having several.

I am going back to North Africa, Tunisia this time, on holiday in October and whereas before I was looking forward to this with some excitement mixed with some caution, I am now more excited about the prospect and have none of the worries. I really do like what I have seen of North Africa so far.

15 September 2007

The Hassan II Mosque is staggering

I planned a day's "contingency" on my trip across North Africa so that I could spend some work time with my colleague from South Africa before we both headed home, and also so that I could have some free time to explore Casablanca.

Boy, am I glad that I did!

We spent a large part of the morning visiting The Hassan II Mosque which is possibly the most impressive building that I have ever seen.

The photograph gives you a clue but does not begin to do justice to the scale, beauty and grandeur of the building.

My other photos on Facebook show some more reasons why it is such an impressive building but to truly appreciate it I am afraid that you will have to go and see it for yourself.

14 September 2007

Breakfast in Dubai, lunch in Cairo, supper in Casablanca

Dear Diary, yesterday was all a bit odd so I thought that I would tell you all about it.
  • Midnight, fast asleep at the SAS Radisson Media City, Dubai.
  • 01:50 wake up call for a 2am taxi to the airport, arriving there at 2:30am for a 4am flight.
  • 3am get to front of check-in queue to find I am not booked on the flight, my confirmed booking had been cancelled somewhere along the line. Much faffing around by airport staff followed which led to me buying a new ticket at 4am and then hot-footing it to the gate only to find the flight, which had been called by then, was running about an hour late.
  • 7am arrive in Cairo. Long wait while colleague waits for his bag and I head off to the other terminal to buy a ticket for the evening flight out of Cairo. We got our stuff done and found the driver that had been arranged for us. The journey was interesting because of the driving (anywhere will do) and the views it gave of the sprawling city,
  • 9am arrive at Semiramis InterContinental Cairo Hotel and book a room for the day so that we have somewhere to freshen up before our meeting. The photograph above is the view from the hotel.
  • 10am get picked up from the hotel by our local colleague and get taken to the office an hour's drive south in Giza.
  • 11am very useful meeting, made the whole trip worthwhile.
  • 2pm left office to get flight (us) and back home for sundown (our colleague). It was the first day of Ramadan so everybody else was getting home at that time too.
  • 3pm back at the hotel to collect bags and a very quick stroll along the Nile to take some more photographs to prove that I had been there.
  • 4:30pm at airport and air-side by 5pm! Two hours to kill so had a coffee and a pastry slice (my first food of the day because of Ramadan) and then made use of the airports wireless internet.
  • 11pm arrive in Casablanca. Uneventful trip to our hotel for the next three days.
In the process we went from GMT+3 to GMT-1 which made it a 28 hour day with two longish flights, several hours in airports, more hours in cars, and in the middle of all that, three hours or rather good work.

12 September 2007

Typical Dubai towers

These two towers, close to my hotel in Dubai Media City, are fairly typical of the many towers in the region, most of which are still under construction.

While these are of standard materials (i.e. reinforced concrete) the sandy colour and local styling of the arches and domes gives them a rather attractive feel and also helps to differentiate Dubai from other skyscraper cities in the world.

11 September 2007

Dubai Media City is full of water

Working in Dubai for a few days probably sound more glamorous than it is proving to be. Today I walked about 50m from the hotel to the office at 8:20 and back again at 18:00, took a business call back in my room, went to the hotel bar for a drink and then the hotel restaurant for a (rather nice) curry with a couple of colleagues.

I did manage to go outside for about 15 minutes at lunchtime, which is probably long enough for somebody not used to bright sunshine and a temperature of 44c. In this brief period I had a quick walk around part of the Dubai Media City business park, which also houses the local offices for LogicaCMG.

This may be a very hot desert region but there is water everywhere in the sort of features that would make Ground Force green with envy. The picture above merely hints at the extravagant use of this scarce resource, there are more pictures here.

Tomorrow should be a relatively quiet day which is just as well given the madness planned for Thursday. More on that later.

IBM joins the OpenOffice.org Community

As a keen user of Open Office (it's installed on 3 PCs at home) and a big fan of IBM (I used to work there and have 4 IBM ThinkPads), I think that this is excellent news. Those of you still trying to justify using MS Office are going to look really silly now.

Message Received: Sep 10 2007, 10:44 AM
From: "John McCreesh" <jpmcc@openoffice.org>
To: announce@openoffice.org
Subject: [ooo-announce] IBM joins the OpenOffice.org Community

A Press Release was issued this morning to announce that IBM are
joining the OOo community:

"The OpenOffice.org community today announced that IBM will be joining
the community to collaborate on the development of OpenOffice.org
software. IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has
been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including
accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions
to the feature richness and code quality of OpenOffice.org. Besides
working with the community on the free productivity suite's software,
IBM will also leverage OpenOffice.org technology in its products."

The text of the full Press Release is here:
and an accompanying FAQ is here:

John McCreesh
Marketing Project Lead

9 September 2007

First impressions of Dubai

This is going to be a very hectic week but it will also take me to some places that I have not been to before, like Dubai.

I arrived here at 07:40 on Sunday morning and, despite getting next to no sleep on the flight over, managed to grab a few hours of sight seeing before the week's work started with a meeting at 4pm.

Two colleagues and myself took a taxi from the hotel to the old part of town and started by exploring the lanes of shops in Al Ras. What struck me was the amount of cheap plastic toys on sale which contributed to the tatty look to the place, nothing like the Grand Market in Istanbul.

It was bloody hot, around 43c, so we stopped for a drink before too long.

Despite this heat we walked a long way but we did manage to get some shelter as we took a pedestrian tunnel under the river.

When the heat finally got too much for us we took another taxi to an air-conditioned mall for some food and some window shopping.

We went to the Mall of the Emirates which is famous for its ski slope with real snow. The mall was spotless and was kept that way by people's tidy behavior and by a small army of people who cleared food tables and swept floors, etc.

The prices seemed to be little, if any, different to those at home so we came home empty handed.

Along the seafront is where all the new building is going on and there is masses and masses of it, a brash mix of office blocks, flats and estates of luxury houses. Those that are being built on manufactured islands are famous but there are several inland schemes too, including one that looks to be trying to recreate some of the feel of Venice.

I am not sure who is going to buy all these new properties but obviously the developers, and their financial backers, are confident that the market is there as the amount of new build is truly staggering.

4 September 2007

Herentals, Belgium

I find myself in Belgium for a meeting as a colleague is on holiday and so a substitute was needed. I could have done without this trip as I'll be traveling for nine days from Saturday and need some time to prepare for that. Still, while I am here I'll make the most of the meeting and being in Belgium.

Herentals is a market town in the northern part of Belgium. The town centre looks pretty enough, particularly the market square, though a lot of the beauty is hidden by the fun fair that is here at the moment. My hotel is in the square too so I expect to be kept awake until the fair closes.

In the centre of the square is a church. The entrance and tower are brick faced but the rest of it is stone. This is the back of the church with a rather dramatic statue in the foreground that I took a fancy to. I did look at the plaque but as it is not in English I have no idea what it's about. Hopefully the meeting tomorrow will be clearer!

2 September 2007

When the tide is high

The high tide at Richmond this afternoon was 5m, which meant that a lot of the tow-path was under water for an hour or so. I made a trip down to the river to watch the water come in and out.

The cyclists here are actually on the normal path. This was at more or less the highest the water got and, as you can see, it comes half-way up the wheels.

Some brave pedestrians went past on their bare feet and with their trousers rolled up. Not a great idea on such a stony path.

I escaped the water by standing on one of the few benched along the path.