Tag Archives: hotels

German triangle.

The other week I pulled a three-day Russia-Germany triangle: Moscow – Munich – Berlin – Moscow. Though it wasn’t such a long-sided triangle, it all the same was a toughie, as so much was packed into my itinerary. However, I didn’t even manage to get myself to Munich itself, only having got as far as its airport. But then, Munich Airport has its own… brewery, so I wasn’t complaining ).

The brewery is right in the middle of one of the airport’s restaurants too – so that’s two unusuals already; I wondered if the beer was going to be unusual too…

Read on…

SAS-2019: a lot more – in Singapore.

Hi folks!

My April journeying continues. It’s already seen me visit such charming cities as Hanover, Baku and Dubai (reports thereon coming soon). Next stop – Singapore. The garden city, the island wonder – one of my fave cities on the planet, if not the fave. But oh it’s hot. And, oh, it’s humid. But it still remains the city of the future. Maybe that’s why I like it so much?…

First, a few ok pics (mine), and some really good pics (not mine; I still need practice) of this wonder-city – by day, by night, of the ships waiting in line for access to the port:

So why was I here (as if I needed a reason)? Because the annual Security Analyst Summit was being held here – the eleventh! And it was… hmmm – I’ll get to that in a bit…

First – how does one go about gauging the success of a SAS? How do you measure it? Was it totally awesome, or just so-so, or something else? Well, IMHO, you can tell if it was totally awesome if, afterward, you have a strange, somewhat paradoxical feeling: on the one hand you have nothing but positive emotions – a euphoric aftershock that just won’t go away. On the other – you’re already aware that something’s sadly lacking in your life, and will stay lacking for another year – the buzz of a SAS! And on the other – third?! – hand, you feel a little… afraid – when you wonder just how on earth next year’s event will be made even better than this year’s! But then you remember how every year after a SAS you think the same thing – and the following year’s event does turn out even better, and you start to feel better again. All these psychological symptoms together should really be called ‘post-event syndrome’. Must remember that term for next time…

Oops. I’ve digressed. Let me get back to ‘was it good?’. It was, as I hope the previous paragraph indicates. But also – have a look at all the comments, links, likes…

If you’re a new reader here, and maybe SAS is new to you too, briefly, SAS is: an annual event bringing together experts (and the press, bloggers) from all over the world to basically talk to each other, in an informal setting, all about cybersecurity. Announcements, presentations, achievements, challenges, industrial CTF, etc., etc. For a bit more on the SAS template, go here.

Next up: where, why, how, who, from where…

SAS-2019 brought on a ferocious bout of post-event syndrome, whose intensity was all the more acute due to fears that some folks might pull out due to geopolitical reasons. But in the cybersecurity industry folks think with their heads and aren’t swayed by sensational headlines. After all, battling the cyber-baddies is only effective when done together, exchanging information, and telling each other about our victories over the computer underground. Cybercriminals know no borders. And the cyber-goodies shouldn’t be limited by them either. And I’m so glad that our colleagues and competitors in the industry feel the same way.

So, there we were fearing no-shows, but in the end not only did everyone turn up but even more did than we expected! But that figures really – for who doesn’t want to get better acquainted with the company that’s being targeted because it takes a principled stand on protecting users from any cyber-vermin, no matter who may be responsible for it and no matter how much it roils certain very powerful cyberwar-mongers. SAS-2019 broke all its own records: 500+ guests, 100+ contributors, 34 countries represented, ~70 presentations, ~10 workshops and training sessions, and more coverage on social media and in the press than ever before.

Right, where did it all start this year. Ah yes, like every year – it all starts actually months in advance when a countdown clock starts showing the number of days, hours and minutes there are left until the event. Fast forward to the morning of the first day, and those clocks have just minutes left, and the anticipation is hitting fever pitch… All the kit and chairs are in place, microphones fully charged, lighting and visual effects all set up, cameras ready (prepare to flash)…

One minute left…

And we’re off!

After a short welcoming speech, I was pinged to get up on the stage. Of course I obliged, gave a very warm warm-up speech, and also took some pics of the audience from the stage. Why should the audience have all the happy-snapping fun, eh? )

After me it was expert after expert sharing their stories – each one fascinating…

This year the number of presentations was the highest it’s been, as mentioned above, but the diversity of types of presentations was real wide too: some were very technical; others were more business-oriented; there were special training sessions on reverse engineering and other methods for pursuing the cyber-swine; a mini-exhibition; an open presentation room for rooky specialists, and a new feature called SAS Unplugged… As to the best of the best content – that will be coming up shortly in a separate cyber-news-from-the-dark-side post.

This year’s SAS brought us for the first time the following:

  • Separate cybersecurity white-hat hacking streams;
  • A small exhibition of participating companies;
  • Industrial topics;
  • Lots of other stuff, but I can’t quite remember it all.

Come the evening, though everyone was no doubt tired trying to take in all the new information of the day, we all headed to a super seafood restaurant I always visit when in town. Yeh! Yum!

And that was that – almost. Time left only for the final few mega-presentations that are traditionally saved till last. They really were something. If interested – have a search for them on the internet.

Then it was my turn again up on stage. ‘Thank you all for coming’, and the obligatory back-at-you pic:

PS: A big thank-you to Roman Rudakov. His ‘masterpiece button’ provided most of the photos in this post.

PPS: Briefly about where we held this year’s SAS – the Swissotel Stamford, where I’d stayed before, and which I only had negative recollections of. Not that I’m fussy when it comes to hotels. I’m comfortable up a mountainside in the cold and spending the night in a tent, but if a hotel says it’s a 5* hotel on the tin, I expect that’s what’s inside it too. Here, back in 2017 that wasn’t the case. However, this year I was very pleased with the place. Everything seemed to be in fully working order, everything seems to have been renovated, with everything shiny and new somehow. The one thing that they haven’t gotten round to is providing decent Wi-Fi, but that’s all:

Yes, I know – I still use Far Manager! I’m used to it, that’s all ).

Well that’s it for today folks, but I’ll be back with more tomorrow…

All the pics form SAS-2109 are here.

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

Mystifying Morocco.

Hi folks!

Now, if you’re a regular reader of this here blog of mine, you’ll know how I like to keep things positive. No matter where I am, no matter the weather (mostly), no matter how jet-lagged, no matter how tired… – I keep things cheerful, cheery, chipper and chirpy. But sometimes, just occasionally, I find all that jolliness is tough to maintain. Not sure why. Maybe it’s something to do with the poles or the moon and tides. Anyway, I need my readers to help me find worthy places to see in Morocco (for my inevitable next visit) because this, my second time in the country, gave me very little to say ‘wow’ about…

Morocco has a long and rich history, so much so you can become engrossed reading about it once you get started. Especially the bit about the fossils of very early (from more than 300 millennia ago) Homo sapiens/Neanderthals. So careful with that link folks: it represents a black hole for your precious time. Worth it though: it’s the history of mankind, no less.

Today, there are suburbs that are more salubrious than the norm – pretty red residences, even new developments of villas with swimming pools in the back garden (as seen from the airplane), but these are very few and far between. Mostly here there’s a marked absence of luxury and other well-to-do-ness.

And, of course, being in Africa, the climate… yes – it’s no Faroese affair ). Hot and humid. In short, not my cup of tea, to put it mildly.

Now, given these unfortunate downsides, I did during my recent stay in Morocco wonder why the place so popular with tourists? Was I checking out all the wrong places in the country? Was I here in the wrong season? What else could I be getting wrong? Could any of you, dear readers, shed any light on this? What are the must-see places in Morocco I’m missing?

This was my second time in the northwestern African country. I was here back in 2012 for a conference in Marrakech. That time I was fairly in raptures about that ancient city with all its backstreets and hustle and bustle. So I’m warming to the theory that I may have got the season wrong.

Another thing: Marrakech isn’t by the sea. Maybe it’s the coast that’s the tourist-magnet, much like, say, Surfers Paradise? Hmmm. There are also the Atlas Mountains – which I didn’t investigate up close. Maybe those too?

Aaaaanyway. My mood sure lifted from this unusual and unexpected gloominess of mine when we reached our digs for the night: the Kasbah Tamadot. Just click that link and you’ll see why ). Talk about ‘oasis’?!

Btw: can you spot the telecommunications pole in the above pic?…

…It’s that single tall, thin ‘palm tree’ on the other side of the road from the hotel. Camouflaged!

This hotel belongs to none other than Sir Richard Branson

…And it’s this fact that attracts most of the guests here. Sometimes he’s here in person and everyone wants a selfie with him (poor guy; and he comes he to relax:).

A very nice place, as you can see. Plus the views all around – exclusively Moroccan:

The Atlas Mountains in the background:

Kunst and birds…

We got up nice and early the following morning – before it gets crazy hot – for a stroll up the hillside at the foot of which the hotel is nestled.

It’s quite high up here (1300-1700 meters above sea level), plus the Sahara isn’t far to the east, so the vegetation… well, again – it’s no Faroes ).

There’s Branson’s hotel:

In closing, a word about the airport…

A grandiose construction, super-modern, really nicely done.

Btw – what’s that alphabet there? Anyone know?

I’ve seen a zillion airports, but not many compare to this one. At least, looks-wise.

Because function-wise… I’ve never known a slower airport! Everything here takes ages! Passport control, baggage, taxis.. Even ‘fast track’ service is sluggish – its ‘fast-tracked’ passport control took five minutes – the actual ‘control’, I mean – not the queuing up!

Still, looking on the bright side – ok, things are slow, but at least the service is actually passenger oriented – and works. For I went and mislaid my trusty travel wallet – with all my travel papers and my two passports in it – while filling out all the forms at the airport. A while later – they found it, called me, I drove back to the airport, and was returned everything. Respect!

But I’m afraid that didn’t make up for the 40-minute security check – just to get into the airport!

Then another 10 minutes for the other security check after passport control.

Then the five minutes while they check every page of my passport!

So again folks – please do tell me what I’m missing in Morocco, why am I… not ‘getting’ it? )

PS: Oh, and guess who was staying at the Virgin hotel?…

…Yep!

All the photos from Morocco are here.

 

 

 

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Hakon ryokan: fairly rocking.

Konichiwa folks!

Here I am, back in one of my fave countries – Japan. The work ethic here is really quite extraordinary: they work a lot, then some more, then more, and then even more. Thankfully, they also know how to unwind of a weekend, which is what we needed to do after our long trip getting here. So off we popped – out of the big city and up into the mountains – to a ryokan with an onsen in the village of Hakon.

Never been to Japan? You really must one day.

Read on…

Snow and Yas.

There’s a Kamchatkan saying that goes something like: ‘If snow falls in June, then spring will be long and drawn-out’. Well it’s not quite June yet, but Moscow weather right up until last week sure did seem to resemble Kamchatka’s extreme climate…

The ducks have already arrived at the reservoir next to the KL office. They’re circling up above it, peering down at the water (still!) completely covered over in ice, thinking ‘EH?!’!!

Read on…

Volcanic dawn mist – not to be missed.

I never did quite work out what this place in Indonesia was called. Is it Penanjakan? And is that the name of the peak, or just the name of the tourist spot near it? Whatever, who cares? Well, for one, a person standing on/at Penanjakan and looking up at the stars – he/she for sure does not care one iota).

How do you like the photo? I’m rather fond of it. A still-life, don’t you think?

It and the ones below weren’t all that difficult to shoot. I placed my camera (a Sony A9) on a reinforced concrete wall, set the shutter speed to 20 seconds, the diaphragm to 6 (or was it 9?), and ISO – to… something (can’t remember, or maybe I just guessed: it has a lot of buttons and blinking lights:). And that was that: done! All that remained was to wait for the sunrise…

Read on…

An Indonesian recipe for treating acclimatization.

What happens to a regular tourist from the North who, after an extended period of Christmas/New Year mirth and merriment suddenly finds him/herself in equatorial Indonesia? Yep, he/she has a rather tough time acclimatizing: to both the difference in time, and to climate… (and to crazy Indonesian driving! More on this later on below).

So, time: it’s +7 from Greenwich. Not so extreme, I hear you saying; hardly +12 now, is it? No. But when you add the climate to the +7 hours, that’s the killer. For there’s no pleasant resort-like weather here. Instead it’s a full-on extreme equatorial tropical climate. By day – around 30°C; by night – 25°C, and always hellishly humid – what feels like a constant 100%+.

It goes without saying that scaling a stratovolcano immediately upon arrival in Indonesia is the last thing most regular tourists fancy doing. What’s the first thing on their minds is a slow acclimatization and taking it relatively easy over the first few days, which is just what we did – on the island of Sumatra. There we visited Lake Toba (more on that later), and also a jungle – where we observed daily life of wild monkeys and orangutans.

Read on: a guy in a fur coat…

Iguazu bird habitation.

Herewith, one of my regular ‘columns’ on this here blog of mine – (in)habitat(ion), i.e., where the locals stay and/or where we stay on our travels. This time – it’s categorically where we stayed, since no locals live right next to the Iguazu Falls. Birds on the other hand…

Now, there’s one hotel that sits right next door to the falls. And it’s a very nice one. It’s the Belmond hotel das Cataratas. Here’s an aerial pic thereof:

If your budget permits, I heartily recommend you stay here. The reason is fairly obvious: as in selling real estate, it’s down to three simple things: location, location and location!

A room with a view of the falls isn’t really needed (you can’t see them too clearly through the forest that surrounds the hotel). But waking, breakfasting, then a stroll of just a hundred meters to the Iguazu viewing platform – well, what more could you ask for? Ok, I guess you could ask for a pre-breakkie morning constitutional to the falls, and even a post-dinner walk thereto, cigar in hand. The answer would still be ‘no problem’!

Read on: Another bonus of staying at this hotel…

A buenos walkabout in Buenos Aires – at last!

The other day I was in the Argentinian capital for the fourth time in my life – the second time this year! But only this time was I able to get a bit of my favorite pastime in: micro-tourism…

It’s a city of contrasts. There are the historical buildings of yesteryear that hint at the former riches and economic successes of the first half of the 20th century; then right next to them are thoroughly ugly (second half of the 20th century) residential buildings; then a bit further out of the center there are the favelas – slums – with overhead highways running through them; then further still there are new business-class apartment blocks with parks, cycle lanes and other cool infrastructure. But – you know me – I tried to take pics of the positive side of the city…

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Bless you Buenos Aires!

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Read on: Dictators and the tango…