Rip off Ireland – a simple example

Let’s assume for a moment you were in the market for a new car and live in Ireland. Let’s assume that you were certifiable, and actually wanted to buy a top of the range, brand-new Ford Mondeo (not that the Mondeo isn’t a great car, just that anybody buying one new versus used needs their head examined)

Let’s go onto Ford Ireland and spec it out. The rule is to choose the most expensive body style, model, paint and extras. We’re going to town here.

ire

That’s a cool €50,125, not including delivery and related charges, apparently.

Now let’s go over to Ford UK and choose exactly the same thing… But hang on a second, it seems like there’s more choice of model and extras. Let’s stick to our plan and choose the best of everything:

uk

£35,565 – a lot of money. But let’s convert that into Euros at the current mid-market rate: €39,666.82 Hmm…

Now let’s look at what your money buys you in the UK:

– A Titanium Sport X versus a Titanium S model
– A 2.5 litre petrol engine versus a 2.2 litre
– Full Alcantara leather versus part-leather
– DVD navigation with touch sensitive controls and USB
– Solar reflective windscreen versus (presumably) a non-solar reflecting one
– Privacy glass
– Sliding load floor
– Dog guard
– Multimedia DVD system
– Roof rails
– 6 CD external autochanger
– Keyless entry and keyless start.

No wonder I’m still happily driving around in my 11 year old Mondy!

Four Peaks Challenge

A group of us from work have signed up a team to take part in the Focus Ireland 2009 Four Peaks challenge.

The challenge involves climbing the highest peaks in the four provinces of Ireland, namely:

The catch? We have to do it in three days, and the total distance to get round to them all involves travelling over 800 miles!

The second challenge for me as the token Englishman in the team is to learn how to pronounce them all :-)

Whilst I’ve done similarly silly things in the past (a three day, 30 mile trek around the Lake District, including Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and High Street) and a 5 day 100 mile walk from Brighton to Watford (ok, not exactly scaling any mountains on that one!) I’ve not done too much walking over the past five years. Therefore I’m itching for the excuse to get out training in the hills surrounding Dublin, which so been pretty much ignored since we moved over here.

The challenge takes place in June, so there’s plenty of time to get the miles in. There’s also plenty of time to get sponsorship in as well…

We aim to raise €4,500 for Focus Ireland – a charity that aims to help the homeless of Ireland. Needless to say, you can choose to give us a donation online (see how easy we make it) just by visiting here to sponsor our imaginatively titled team: Inspired By Mountains (geddit?)

RTE News on social software and IBM

RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, visited IBM Dublin on Monday 1st December for a piece on social software within the enterprise. It went out on the News On Two programme the same day. Yours truly is included in a couple of arty shots and a quick vox-pop

Featured is the internal IBM research project called Beehive. Beehive is, as Mike described in the clip, a kind of Facebook for the Enterprise, allowing employees to share the lighter side of life within the firewall. It’s great at fostering relationships between people who you may work with but never otherwise get the chance to know and meet.

Additionally, Beehive acts as a fantastic proving ground for ideas and research which may eventually end up being part of Lotus Connections, or indeed other IBM products. Indeed, Connections is heavily built on the productization of ideas and research from our own experiences within IBM. There’s much more on Connections over at the Synchronous blog (including the odd post from me.)

Hamleys Dundrum the first flagship store outside Regent St? Don’t think so…

I read recently that Hamleys, the famous Regent Street toy store, are to open a three storey shop in the Dundrum Town Centre shopping mall in Dublin. As I live in Dublin this is nice for me.

However, I take issue with the claim that this is:

its first standalone store in Europe besides its Regent Street flagship.

When I was a kid growing up in Luton I clearly remember the opening of the first ever Hamleys store outside of Regent Street in a two storey shop attached onto the side of the Arndale Centre by the town hall. As a kid it was kind of a big deal, and a must-stop destination on the Thursday after school shopping trips with my Mum. It was there for a good few years in the mid to late 80’s. Checking Wikipedia there is no mention of it, but my memory does not deceive me. I might go and edit the entry but as Google isn’t turning up any references to the existence of the store somebody will probably take the edit down for lack of citation or something.

So, hard luck Dublin you are not the first to get a proper Hamleys Store (Airports and concessions in House of Fraser don’t count I’m afraid) you were beaten by the proud former holder of the worst town in Britain title. As a salutary reminder of the looming recession it is worth noting that the next tenants of the Luton Hamleys store when it closed down were no less than Poundsaver.

iPhone 3G first thoughts

  • It wasn’t hard to get one if you were prepared. I pre-ordered early the day the pre orders started and was ok. There was a bloke in front of my in the O2 Blanchardstown store who pre-ordered a 16GB and was only offered an 8GB, despite his protestations about being ‘the first person’ to pre-order.
  • O2 ported over my pre-pay number right there and then. I’m used to this taking days in the UK.
  • Sign up and activation was painless. I think mainly because I had it all done by 10am Dublin time and Ireland is a small country anyway.
  • The device is noticeable heavier and fatter than my 16GB iPod touch, which is not a criticism, just a difference to be expected and gotten used to.
  • The Home button seems to require more of a firm press than the Touch.
  • The multi-touch screen seems like it has been slowed down a bit from the Touch. Presses need to be a bit firmer and scrolling seems slower.
  • Love the volume and silent buttons. LOVE the speaker and not having to find a pair of headphones just to watch a quick video or listen to a song.
  • It makes and receives phone calls.
  • No visual voicemail – now I have one I honestly don’t care. I maybe get 1 voicemail a month and never have to trawl through any others to get to it. I can understand the value for heavy users, but that ain’t me.
  • It sends and receives text messages. I honestly cannot remember the last time I sent or got an MMS – not bothered about that.
  • Wifi with enterprise access at at last. However I haven’t been able to get it to work at work, due to the fact that there is a rogue unprotected adhoc access point somewhere with the SSID I need to use and that’s all the phone will see.
  • I need to get over the mental hurdle of being stingy with using cellular data. So far I’ve used 244K of download. I still get a slight panic when I tap on Weather or Stocks and it just goes off and gets data. So I only (only?) have 1GB per month, but I need to just go with the flow and treat data access as a normality.
  • App Store – immediate downloads: Twitteriffic, the light saber thing, Facebook and Exposure.
  • App Store – there’s lots missing from the Irish store. No games at all, and certain other apps are not there. I WANT SUPER MONKEYBALL!!!
  • The Remote app is teh awsomeness. It may just make me get an Apple TV just to show it off!
  • There’s lots of crud and no way to get through it other than scrolling. More evident on the iPhone interface than iTunes. Let me ignore the app developers producing ebooks or bible stuff please!
  • I’ve not paid a penny for an app yet. I want to hear the wisdom of those who have. I want a good weight of reviews.
  • GPS – well I went outside and it knew where I was, so it works. So does cellular triangulation.
  • Maps – tried to search for ‘Hotel’ when located at home. It gave me three results. IN THE WHOLE OF DUBLIN! I know this isn’t a phone issue, it is a data issue. Come on Irish companies, start advertising yourselves – your market just got a whole lot more mobile.

Sampling Dublin, part 3 and more

Well it turns out I am the worst restaurant critic ever after producing just two reviews of the places we’ve eaten at since moving over here. So, here’s a quick attempt to cover the rest in no particular order:

Eden

Eden is a lovely, lovely place but they clearly need to work on their website which is showing a database error just now. We’ve eaten there twice now; the first time being after our wedding due to a voucher we had as a present. Serving contemporary Irish/European cuisine in a two-floor restaurant located in the heart of Temple Bar, Eden has apparently been sold on by its original owners but we still found it to be a great place to eat. I particularly liked the Gravlax of vodka cured Salmon starter and the special of Haddock on a bed of Chick Pea salsa I had on our first visit. Our second visit was for Valentines Day and even though it was supposedly a set menu the choice was excellent. Dinner for two including wine and dessert comes to around the €60-70 per head mark. Service is attentive but restrained. My glass was never in danger of running dry which is always the sign of a good restaurant.

Maloti

An Indian restaurant on South William Street, we stopped into Maloti one night before a gig. It’s a fairly upmarket Indian, with contemporary decor and whilst the food was fine, I found the portions rather small and it didn’t seem fantastic value for money. In particular the size of the dishes containing the condiments served with poppadums was laughable. All in all nothing special, but maybe just nicer to look at than your average Indian restaurant.

Seasons @ The Four Seasons

We have a small book of the 100 best restaurants in Dublin at home. It’s produced by The Dubliner magazine and most of the reviews appear to be here. One night, having decided to eat out the coming Saturday I threw the book to Lana and let her choose the venue. A few thumbs through and one phone call later and she proudly stated it was all sorted. “Great, where are we going?” said I. “Oh, the Four Seasons” she proclaimed. After I returned from arranging the extension to my credit card I managed a response back! The Four Seasons in Ballsbridge is one of Dublin’s swankiest hotels, as evidenced by the Ferrari 599 GTB and various Bentleys parked outside as we arrived. It is also home to the Ice Bar, apparently one of the places to be seen. Thankfully the restaurant itself is a bit more refined and indeed the furnishings are very grandiose. It was fairly quiet when we arrived, but became busier as the evening drew on. After ordering our dishes and wine we were served an aperitif of beetroot cappucino. I had a starter that consisted of a tasting dish of scallops, each presented separately in it’s shell. Each was accompanied by a different sauce, including one that came natural and with caviar. For main I had quite simply the finest steak I’ve ever eaten. Bad memory robs me of what else we eat (as I said, I’m a rubbish food critic!) but it was all gorgeous. The service, naturally was outstanding. The price? Well there wasn’t much change out of €300 after tip and that was with only one bottle of keenly priced Rioja. That’s the last time I let Lana choose!

Elephant & Castle

In stark contrast to the Four Seasons, Elephant & Castle is located in Temple Bar. Whilst it looks fairly unassuming from the outside and with a very basic interior, it’s probably our favourite place to just turn up and eat at. Open until 11:30pm every night and not taking reservations, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to eat here, though I imagine they get very busy at weekends. The menu doesn’t reflect the surroundings and this is definitely not your average fare. There’s a decidedly eclectic slant to a lot of the food with dishes such as Roasted Quails with Glazed Cabbage and Cider sauce available. However, Elephant & Castle also holds no pretensions and there is something for everyone. In particular they serve probably the nicest chicken wings I’ve ever had and the burgers are gorgeous too. If you want a place to have a casual meal with mates, you can’t beat it. They are also open from 8am on weekdays for breakfast – something that makes me regret with live out of town.

Aya

A Yo-Sushi style conveyor belt sushi place, Aya is located just around the back of Brown Thomas on Clarendon Street (by the way, Yo Sushi themselves have a place in the Dundrum shopping centre) It is pretty standard fayre as far as sushi goes. We opted for the Sushi 55 option which for a fixed price allows you to fill your boots with 55 minutes of conveyor belt related action. It includes one drink and if memory serves green tea is thrown in. We were sat a fairly long way from the hatch the conveyor belt spat out from and it proved to be rather frustrating as we saw prospective dishes whisked away by more fortunately located punters. The dishes themselves are sorted into different price bands, indicated by the colour of the plate (with sushi 55 you can just take your pick and not worry) and they are not limited to sushi – the odd dish such as sesame chicken comes past as well. All in all it is fun, but I’d still go somewhere like Yamamri for decent Sashimi by preference. They also sell a range of Japanese foods and ingredients as well.

The Port House

Located on South William Street, The Port House is easy to miss. From the outside it just looks like a few tables and chairs outside a small pub, but step inside (and down) and you are transported into a dim but beautifully candle-lit cellar tapas restaurant. We went on a weekday evening and whilst we could walk in and get a table, it was still buzzing inside (I don’t think they take reservations) The menu offers a wide variety of dishes along with a range of daily specials. We sampled the garlic chicken wings, patatas bravas, spanish meatballs, calmari and a gorgeous pintxo with roast beef amongst others. I washed it down with a carafe of the house Rioja. The food arrived very quickly once we had ordered, but we were left for about 20 minutes after being seated before our food order was taken. Dishes are keenly priced at around €4-7 per dish.

Dublin, a year (and a month) on

They say that time flies when you are having fun. Well it’s been over a year now since we upped sticks and moved to Dublin. In that time we’ve settled into our flat, got married, got stuck into our respective jobs (more on that below…) enjoyed our first Irish Christmas together, bought another car and lots more.

By and large we’ve not looked back. The move has been great for many reasons. Dublin itself is a great place to live, and we are pretty well positioned in Lucan. It’s been very convenient for commuting as we both work outside the city anyway. Getting into town is simple, being only 15 minutes in the car or slightly longer by bus.

I got dug into work right from the beginning, building up a team to go and deliver new function in Lotus Connections. After a summer of stops and starts we really got going around September with a firm plan of what we were to produce. That culminated in the release of Lotus Connections 2.0 last month, about which you’ll find more over at the synchronous blog. It was a rollercoaster ride, and it’s fair to say it dominated my life for the last few months or so, as evidenced by the lack of activity on this blog.

Lana started working as a staff nurse in a community residential facility for seriously mentally disabled adults in Maynooth after we returned from our honeymoon in September. As usual with nursing she was working shifts which in this case were 12 hours long including every other weekend. This saw early starts for both of us often, until she got her own car – a Toyota Yaris – earlier this year. Whilst not a replacement for the Mini she had in the UK it’s a nice little car that seems spritelier than it’s 1 litre engine would suggest.

However, the rather punishing nature of the shifts took it’s toll and contributed to Lana’s decision to quit that role, so as of now she’s looking around for what to do next. One option on the table to to go back and further her education in some form or other, but it is early days in the decision making process!

In terms of culture and social life, we’ve taken advantage of what Dublin has to offer, but have not spread our wings too far out into the rest of the country as of yet. Whenever somebody asks me about how living here compares to back in Southampton my answer typically revolves around the fact that you are never lost for anything to occupy your time here. Like any capital city, Dublin has a wide choice of things to do. It’s not uncommon for us to both get in from work at 9pm on a weekday and then decide to head out into town for food. There’s always somewhere new to try and I can comfortably say that we’ve eaten in more places than we ever tried in Southampton (mainly because there was a fairly limited choice of places to try!) We’ve been to the zoo, been to various gigs and probably been to the cinema more than ever (there’s one right on our doorstep, as there was in Southampton) It’s probably also fair to say that we enjoy the fact that things are a lot more accessible here. You can go shopping until 8 or later pretty much any night of the week and there’s a lot of choice in where to go.

I’ve been playing football with a work team in a league over the past year, as well as making a good effort to improve my (awful) golf including taking some recent lessons. Initially I found Dublin to be a very photogenic place and that encouraged me to take the camera out often. However this year work has intervened and I’ve just not found the time – something I want to remedy very soon.

Of course there are some downsides to life over here, but they are really just annoyances. I’ve commented previously on the standard of driving, and it still gets to me, but I’ve started to realise that life is too short to get too wound up about such things! Like pretty much everywhere, the current global financial situation is having its effects felt here. Petrol has risen from about €1.15 to €1.30 per litre (which admittedly is still cheaper than the UK) and other motoring costs are much higher here. Housing prices are going down, which is ultimately good for us as we bide our time before buying – wanting to take as much advantage as we can of the fact that we won’t have to pay stamp duty as first time buyers.

Then there is the weather. In fact maybe that is the biggest change between Southampton and here. Being (relatively) coastal, Southampton benefitted from a very reasonable micro-climate and it didn’t seem to rain that often. Dublin on the other hand sees most of the the weather coming in from the Atlantic, allowing central parts of Ireland to benefit from the rain shadow of the West coast. Unfortunately the shadow seems to run out somewhere just short of Dublin!

So all in all things are going very well. When we we planning the move we were open about the fact that we wouldn’t stay if it wasn’t working out. It is, and I can’t see us going anywhere anytime soon.

Living it up

Ritz Carlton Powerscourt 1

Given that both Lana and I were effectively working over the Christmas and New Year period, we had always planned to treat ourselves to a mini-break in the early part of 2008. After ages debating if we should push the boat out and go on an exotic holiday or maybe have a European city break we came to a rather strange decision. We’ve been in Ireland for over six months now and have hardly had any chance to explore. Therefore we decided to have a weekend break somewhere local. The beauty of this idea was that it meant we had no wasted time on planes bookending our break.

The really bizarre part is that we chose a venue only about half an hour’s drive from our front door. Powerscourt is a country estate in the Wicklow mountains, just South of Dublin. Last October a new Ritz-Carlton hotel was opened on the site and that’s where we booked ourselves into for an overnight spa package. I’d been fortunate enough to stay in a Ritz-Carlton once before for work, so knew we would be in for a treat.

On arrival at Saturday lunchtime we were informed that we’d been upgraded to the club floor and a larger suite, which was a nice surprise. After arranging our spa treatments for the following morning we went to check out our room. Lana was in heaven with the New England style decor (I’m going to be in trouble when we get our own place…) whilst I marvelled at the various technology including LCD touch sensitive control panels for everything from room temperature to the curtains and three LCD TVs including one in the bathroom mirror! Then we checked out the breakfast options:

€350 breakfast!

Needless to say we wouldn’t be ordering that ;-)

Included as part of our upgrade was access to the club lounge with free food and drinks provided throughout the day. Think of an airport lounge within the hotel and you are about there, except with much nicer furniture. The rest of the hotel is simply sumptuous from the lobby area with solo harpist down to the spa and pool and the pub down in the basement. As you would expect there is an overall air of opulence and money which probably doesn’t go down to well with Irish values, but there was enough evidence of people taking lunch and coffee in the lobby to suggest that you don’t have to be staying there to soak a bit of it up. The helipad being built out at the back is probably taking things a bit far though.

One of the main attractions is the restuarant: Gordan Ramsay’s first foray into Ireland. Unfortunately we booked our stay rather late and had no chance of getting into dinner on a Saturday night. Reading Traveladvisor reviews about the hotel this seems to be a bone of contention that the hotel does not have a restaurant that guests can be guaranteed to eat at. However there is a portion of the expansive lobby that turns into a bistro at night, and then there’s always the pub. We chose to supplement our free food and drink with some room service whilst chilling out and relaxing in our room after returning from browsing the Avoca shops within Powerscourt.

On Sunday we rose early to get breakfast in the restaurant (no caviar choice there!) and then headed down to relax by the pool before our spa treatments. I went for a “deep cleansing back treatment” whilst Lana had an advanced facial. Needless to say we both came out feeling thoroughly refreshed and relaxed.

On leaving on Sunday afternoon we were home within 30 minutes. No airports, taxis or baggage to lug around and no delays! Whilst it is great to travel, sometimes taking advantage of the delights on your doorstep is just as much fun and much more relaxing.

Sampling Dublin pt 2: The Bistro

Part two of of the occassional series in which I try my hand at restaurant reviews. As I stated in part 1 I’m no food expert, but just describe what I do and don’t like.

The Bistro is a small family run restaurant located on Castle Market between William Street South and Drury Lane. We visited with Lana’s folks for a midweek evening meal and the restaurant was quite quiet. We sat downstairs but there is an upstairs dining section as well. The decor and tables were nice enough, and we were certainly made welcome.

The menu is fairly straightforward but with a good selection of choices. I got a bit carried away and made what a menu selection which with hindsight wasn’t the most balanced. To start I had deep fried brie which was lovely, followed by Confit of Duck. The duck was cooked to perfection, literally falling off the bone. After two fatty courses I then finished it off with the selection of irish cheeses. The combination of all this fatty left me feeling quite bloated and to be honest I regretted it the next day. The food itself was lovely though. The wine menu had a good selection of traditional and New World wines.

The service was fine, though given it was quiet I did expect a bit more attentiveness – keeping the wine glasses topped up would have been nice. I didn’t pick up the bill so can’t really comment on the price, but it seemed that the mains were possibly slightly higer priced than the overall dining experience would suggest was reasonable.