Friday, 11 April 2014

A big mosque, Ikea and a rant about queues.

We're enjoying two weeks off school as a spring break at the moment and we've taken the opportunity to go and see Abu Dhabi.  It is always easy to generalise about any country or region and when you talk about the UAE people generally associate the area with: A) being hot, B) oil and C) desert.  Like most stereotypes there is an element of truth, it is warm in the summer, there is desert and some of the Emirates have oil, mainly in Abu Dhabi with much smaller reserves in Dubai and Sharjah.

However, scratch just below the surface and you find that the seven Emirates that make it up are very different.  The fact they are unified is a great compliment to the diplomacy and vision of the Sheikhs that put it together and those that have worked in the last forty-two years to make it a success.  This diversity is what motivates us to spend some time travelling around and hence our trip to Abu Dhabi.

We took the opportunity to go and see the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (Tripadvisor:  #1 attraction in Abu Dhabi, that's 19 places above Ferrari world and not a roller coaster in sight..) and we were very impressed.  I have to admit we do like to visit large places of worship wherever we go, partly because they are normally very impressive pieces of architecture and also because I think it tells you a lot about the people who built them and what life was like at the time of construction.  Let me give you an example.  Avignon is a medium size, very attractive Medieval town in Provence.  But for a short while in the XIV century it was the centre of the Catholic world as Rome was in upheaval.  Thus in the middle of this quaint place you find an enormous and striking Papal Palace, fascinating, or as my children would have said 'you're kidding, we're not walking round this are we?', oh how we'd have laughed...  Suffice to say we also visited the pont, but I didn't dance.

One of the Palais, sure it's big but think of the heating bills...
Everest were always coming round trying to flog them a new door.

So having established we have previous for this sort of visit, we went to the Grand Mosque.  First impressions are that it is aptly named, it is grand and it's definitely a Mosque so no trouble with the Estate Agents' description.  Secondly, entry is free as is a guided tour or an audio guide and all are welcome.

Now I am a sucker for an audio guide, as my wife will tell you.  One sure way of getting me to shut up and wander off for an hour is to give me something that looks like an iPhone with a cheap headset then point me towards 'information point 1'.  Although the award for the most frustrating audio guide goes to the Bayeux Tapestry.  In an effort to keep you moving it doesn't give you an option to re-listen to any of the descriptions and accidentally I skipped one. With my OCD for this sort of thing (I am a 'completer/finisher', I have to watch a TV series from the start and in chronological order, can't dip in half way through)  I wanted to hear the bit I'd missed but the only way to do it was to go all the way round and start again.  Damn you Normans, you weren't even French..

Back to the Mosque, it is an awe inspiring place.  Pure white marble, tranquil pools of blue, cool shady walkways and a cavernous interior.  You have to be impressed with the attention to detail and the commitment to produce a unique building that will stand out amongst the thousands of others built for the same purpose throughout the world.

The hundreds of pillars are in the style of a date palm and inlaid by hand with semi precious stones and mother of pearl in a floral design.  The main chandelier weighs 10 tons and was constructed in Germany, everywhere you look the attention to detail, the quality of the products used and the craftsmanship is amazing.  Yet it doesn't feel ostentatious, the mission statement for the project was 'unite the world' and the various places that they sourced material from and the artisans they used echoed this vision.

Whereas most big cathedrals in Europe are old buildings, this place was built between 1996 - 2007 so is very much a modern statement.

Following our morning of culture, in the afternoon we visited another place of global wonderment and pilgrimage, Ikea.  Like other places of interest, we have visited Ikea stores in several countries and you will be relieved to hear that the one in Abu Dhabi is much the same as the ones in St. Etienne and  Southampton.  You don't see many reviews on TripAdvisor for them but to summarise:  entry is free, they are air conditioned/heated depending on the exterior environment, the canteen has a predictable and reasonably priced selection, and if you need to stock up on stubby HB pencils or paper tape measures these are free and readily available.  Just like the stores in Europe, only 4 of the 30 tills were open so you had to queue up to leave, I will ask my 'go to' Ikea insiders why that is always the case, but that's not a phenomenon that you only find in this shop.  Our Carrefour here suffers from the same problem, as do many immigration passport control areas in airports and sometimes worst of all,  Eurotunnel.  I never got that.

Gatwick last week, suffice to say, some people had been in the queue at passport control for some time..
I can appreciate how a shop can get caught out by a sudden influx of customers at a normally quiet time of day, maybe four coach loads of tourists stop off for a toilet break and decide to stock up on water, travel sweets in tins and 'buy one get one free' Coco Pops.  But at peak times airports and other travel hubs are often fully booked so the number of passengers passing through is entirely predictable, why not staff up accordingly? (This is now the rant section of the blog, our friend Elaine's favourite bit..) 

It's the same when you ring a call centre.  When was the last time you heard 'thank you for calling, we'll be dealing with your inquiry quickly and efficiently as we have accurately estimated the volume of calls that we'll be receiving today', never I bet?  But you have heard 'due to an unexpectedly high volume of calls you are in a queue,  there are 56 people ahead of you, as an alternative you can call back' quite often I reckon?  So they had time to make a special recording informing me of their inefficiency but not enough time to ring up some extra staff to come in and do some overtime?

If they were really honest what they should say is 'we know that all our competitors are rubbish at answering the phone too so what are you going to do?  I'll tell you what, nothing.  Oh and don't bother with Uswitch it's a complete con, we all know what the competition charges and it works out the same at the end of the year'.

I thought that IT was supposed to iron out all these kinks by giving the decision makers the management information they need to predict call levels?  Maybe it does, maybe they ignore it to save money?

At least over here we don't have that dilemma, there is normally only one choice for a service, maybe two at a push so there is no switching, but the companies involved don't make you wait any longer for an answer than the ones in a free market.