Saturday, August 30, 2014

... and there was Palio

Palio di Siena, Italy
We happened to be lucky enough to catch Palio di Siena this summer.  Palio is held twice a year, in July and August.  After seeing Piazza del Campo several years ago, I tried very hard to imagine how that worked in what seemed like a small space for a horse race on somewhat banked cobblestone street.

I learned that they lay thick, hard dirt over the brick around the square so the horses can race.  This doesn't always keep the horses from slipping, but more humans fall than horses.  I read this is quite common as it is a bareback race.  

Piazza del Campo filling up with spectators to watch Il Palio

According to information on Wikipedia, the event dates back to the 14th Century.  The races replaced bullfighting, and the first races were on buffalos and then donkeys.  It was not until 1656 that the "modern" Palio was established.

We caught a practice run two days before the big race day.  The crowds still come out for it, so you can experience the real thing even if you are not there for the finale.

We went back to Siena the day of the final to meet some friends.  While we did not watch the event, we did see the Contrade, or districts, parade their horses through the streets in full traditional dress.  

A horse entering Piazza del Campo for Palio

Tickets to watch the event on shop balconies are sold for a premium price.  We stood in the square, which was free. While we did not have a bird's eye view of the race, we were still able to enjoy the event.  If we needed to use any facilities, the side street bar where we had drinks before had no issues with us going back there.

The streets of the piazza are cleaned before Il Palio

Palio requires a lot of waiting for a short race, but it is worth the wait.
Blink and you might miss the horse running by!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Never Underestimate the Hashtag #

Back in Dubai. Summer is almost over.  - Almost sounds like a Haiku.

This month I made the very long trip to the US for a few days.  As it was just my son and I, with some encouragement from my husband, we decided to fly from Dallas to Houston.

My son had been asking me what it was like to fly on a "US plane".  Without being blunt and informing him the service is not typically as good as Emirates, he got to experience a lot of challenges first hand.

There was a lot of confusion about gates and things prior to take off.  The "go to gate A2", only to be told "go back to A1" that told you to go to A2 is par for the course.  I know if this were to happen in other countries, the manner in which it is done would be more polite.

I flinch a bit when the employee working to check people in at the gate gets assertive because I am standing in line patiently.  I realized this is a norm.  Airline employees do not realize they are doing it, but the needed service tone of "may I help you" comes out more like "why are you standing there?"  I received a very stern "Can you PLEASE move over here so I can check you in?!"

We arrive to Houston fine.  Unfortunately, our luggage does not.  Sadly, it seems to happen to me almost every time I fly in the US.  My luggage never arrives with me.  But this one - a 45 minute direct flight?

I go to report the luggage.  They write it up, and I can check back after 24 hours.  That's a long time for only a 45 minute flight away.  I figured they would recover it, but I am impatient.  And while I am always prepared for luggage loss, the rest of my son's diabetic medical supplies were in those bags.  I had much more to loose than clean clothes if they were not recovered.

It bugged me.  So, before I went to sleep I decided to take it to Twitter.  I hashtagged lostluggage as well as the name of the air carrier.

As our metabolism is not completely adjusted, I wake up in the early hours of the morning to check my son's blood sugar when we travel. When I looked at my phone to set my alarm for the next check, I saw I had a response on Twitter.  Wow - only about 2 hours after my tweet!  That was impressive.

After the exchange of a few public tweets, the airline suggested we take it offline and they sent me a few numbers and other websites to contact throughout the ordeal.  This was very helpful in locating the luggage, and much more pleasant than speaking to a computer.

My luggage arrived the next day.  Pleased to have it, I was disappointed it was damaged and incredibly dirty.  I have never seen that much dirt on a luggage.  Ever.  Nor has my luggage been damaged in other places I have travelled to.

I am still working out the damage bit, and the airline sent me some alternative sites via Twitter messaging that I would not be able to find easily myself.

The moral of the story is, if you have a customer service need that is not being met, or needs some facilitation, do not under estimate the power of the hashtag. Those companies that are smart will address your need quickly.  It doesn't take a harsh tweet. Just put something out there to get the issue moving.

Happy, safe travels to all.